Once again on Election Day, May 17, 2016, Marion County election officials received ballots too late to be counted.
If you mailed yours less than a week ahead of time, yours might have been among them.
According to Marion County Clerk, Bill Burgess, during the November 2014 gubernatorial election, 715 Marion County ballots were mailed too late and were never counted.
Longer mailing times in 2016 result from two changes in US Postal Service policy, Burgess says. First, Salem mail began being routed through Portland the summer of 2012, meaning that a resident who mails a ballot to the Salem elections office will have that letter travel to a Portland transfer station to be sorted before it is returned back to the Marion County Clerk.
Delay is also caused by a 2015 change in US Postal Service policy; First Class mail was formerly delivered “overnight.” Now the USPS says it will deliver first class mail in 1-3 business days.
This election, 11 ballots mailed in Salem and postmarked on May 16 in Portland – the day prior to election day – did not make it back to Marion County elections offices before the May 17th 8 p.m. deadline. On Election Day itself, 65 ballots were mailed in Salem. These didn’t arrive until May 19th, and were all too late to be counted.
The county clerk takes steps to include as many ballots as possible. On election evening, someone from the Marion County clerk’s office drives to the transfer station at NW Hoyt St. in Portland at 8 p.m., to pick up any ballots – even those postmarked the same day, that have been processed. Those ballots are driven back to Salem and counted.
“They try hard at the post office,” Burgess says, “but they go through more than 1 million pieces of mail every day just at that one Portland station. They sort the mail all night. And any ballots processed there after 8 p.m., will be too late for us to pick up and they won’t be counted.”
This bothers Burgess. “I’ve been talking to post office representatives,” he says. “We would like them to bring back the original first class postal standards, and deliver mail overnight. We would like them to treat ballots in a priority manner, just like the way they work so hard at Christmas time.”
He has also presented information in Washington D.C. at the Joint Election Officials Legislative Conference. Some of the legislative counsel at the conference said the problem was specific to Oregon.
“But another state chimed in,” Burgess says, “’Hey, wait, really we all vote by mail.’”
Until changes are made, Burgess tells Marion County voters, “You need to mail it early. That’s why this year the post office advised people to mail their ballots a week ahead of time.”