Tuesday is Oregon’s primary election – but the state isn’t grappling with long lines at the polls, safe access to the ballot box or any of the other pandemic-related challenges that other states have faced. That’s because Oregon is entirely vote-by-mail, and has been since 1998.
As many states consider their options for voting safely on Election Day in November, we asked Levi Strauss & Co. employees and Vote Captains Martyn Lindley and Michele Bunch, both enthusiastic supporters of the system, to share their experiences on voting by mail.
It’s easy and convenient. Martyn and Michele pointed to several polls that show up to 30 percent of the electorate vote more often with vote by mail.
“It’s so true that it’s a life changer!” Michelle says. “They mail you the voter’s pamphlet, they mail you the ballot, and you can sit at your table at home and fill it in. Drop off at a ton of locations around the city is easy, too!”
Martyn added, “I like to research the candidates and measures online using multiple sources from many perspectives, and it is so much easier to do the research and vote in a single session rather than having to bring notes to a voting booth. The postal system is available for early birds to vote many days in advance, while the county-provided drop boxes make it great for procrastinators like me to vote within hours of election night.”
With a little creativity, you can still make Election Day a shared experience. On the downside, Martyn and Michele acknowledge that the “togetherness” of going to vote at a local polling center can create a sense of community. But they pointed out that the Republican and Democratic parties of Oregon both offer election-night “watch parties” that allow citizens to rub elbows with fellow voters in local watering holes and eateries.
“For the 2018 mid-terms, LS&Co. employees organized a vote party that started at a local pub and ended with a ‘group march’ to the nearest voter drop box so everyone could drop in their ballot, which was much more enjoyable than waiting in line at a voting location,” Martyn says.
All in all, Martyn and Michele agree that vote by mail is a wonderful, safe and secure concept that would allow a national electorate to continue holding primaries and successfully pull off a general election without the hassles and dangers associated with social distancing at physical polling locations. They also predict that after the rest of the nation sees the benefits, including lower costs and removing the logistical hassles of setting up hundreds of voter locations, many more states will be joining the movement.
Martyn points out that Oregon’s system was pioneered by Republicans in the 1980s, and in 1996 Democratic Senator Ron Wyden was elected in a special vote-by-mail session that convinced both parties of the process. In 1998 Oregon became the first state to conduct all elections exclusively by mail based on this bipartisan enthusiasm.
“Vote by mail is cheap and convenient,” Oregon’s Secretary of State Bev Clarno said recently. “It’s given Oregon one of the highest voter turnout rates in the country, and we’ve proven that it’s very secure. In the wake of COVID-19, it also prevents voters from having to choose between staying safe at home and casting their ballot.”