Election office employees put away sample ballots during the conclusion of a ballot-counting test at the Multnomah County Elections Office in Portland on Oct. 25. (Photo by Jordan Gale/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

With just over a week before the election, Oregon officials received their first big dump of ballots on Monday.

Elections offices statewide received nearly 160,000 ballots, the biggest daily total since Oct. 21 when the Secretary of State’s Office started tracking ballots. As of Monday, elections officials had received about 570,000 ballots, or just under 20% of registered voters. A quarter of registered Republicans have voted – nearly 190,000 people — and nearly a quarter of registered Democrats have turned in ballots – more than 240,000 people, state data shows. 

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Turnout this year could be crucial to the results. Voters have key races to decide and several are highly competitive, including the three-way gubernatorial contest between Democrat Tina Kotek, Republican Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson. Three congressional races also could be tight, including for the 4th, 5th and 6th districts. Those results could influence the balance of power in the U.S. House.

Oregon voters are also deciding the makeup of the state’s next Legislature, which Democrats have dominated for years. 

“There are a lot of close races, and they could be won very narrowly,” said John Horvick, senior vice president and an elections expert at Portland-based DHM Research. “Every vote matters. And though that’s a cliche, it really is true.”

The turnout so far has been a bit sluggish, Horvick said.

“Right now it looks like the turnout is a tick or two lower than what it has been in the past,” Horvick said.

Nevertheless, he expects the final turnout to largely mirror past elections.

“For the last 40 years, it’s basically been right around 70%,” Horvick said. “It’s really only varied by three percentage points.” Turnout in Oregon has stayed relatively flat over the years. (John Horvick/DHM Research)

A fairly high percentage of Republicans and Democrats tend to vote, according to the data. Horvick expects that to continue this year. Turnout among registered Republicans and Democrats has been fairly similar over the years. (John Horvick/DHM Research)

Oregon has nearly 3 million registered voters. Nearly one-quarter are Republicans, 34% are Democrats. This year, the ranks of nonaffiliated voters became the biggest bloc, surging to about 35% of registered voters. Horvick expects about 80% of registered Republicans and Democrats again to vote this year but he says perhaps 50% of nonaffiliated voters will cast ballots.

The reason has to do with Oregon’s Motor Voter law, which took effect in 2016. Since then, state elections officials have registered anyone who’s obtained an Oregon driver’s license, identification card or had contact with Oregon DMV.

Many of those registered have never planned to vote, Horvick said.

“Motor Voter has increased primarily the number of people who are registered as nonaffiliated,” Horvick said. “It hasn’t made much of a dent in turnout.” Oregon’s Motor Voter law has registered hundreds of thousands of nonaffiliated voters. (John Horvick/DHM Research)

Both Horvick and Paul Manson, research director of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College, said analyzing turnout and what it means will be difficult this year. Both urged caution in interpreting the data. 

This is the first general election in which voters can procrastinate to Election Day. Under Oregon’s new postmark law, ballots postmarked Tuesday, Nov. 8 will get counted. So will those deposited in a drop box or elections office by 8 p.m. that day.

“The rules did change this time and past elections aren’t great guides,” Horvick said. “We have to wait and see voters do their thing.”

This is also the first general election since the pandemic and widespread restrictions. In 2020, which was a presidential election and an unusual year with the start of the pandemic, Democrats cast their ballots early, worried that then-President Donald Trump would direct the U.S. Post Office to slow service, Horvick said. Many Republicans voted on Election Day because the GOP warned voters not to count on vote-by-mail systems, he said.

And the issues this year don’t mirror those of the past,  when the environment, education and land-use issues often dominated Oregon campaigns, Manson said. 

“That’s not happening this year. It’s guns, abortion, houselessness, crime, the economy, Covid and maybe holding (Gov.) Kate Brown responsible for Covid closures,” Manson said. “This a referendum on Democrats nationally as well as in Oregon.”

Analysts expect Republicans to make gains in Congress and state government in reaction against President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders. Brown is the least popular governor in the country, successive polls have shown.


Oregon Capital Chronicle

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