Vote by Mail: Best Practices

Oregonians love Vote By Mail! Oregon was the first full Vote by Mail (VBM) state. Of course, we can vote in-person at Elections offices. LWVOR encourages voters to save Oregon taxpayers the prepaid postage cost. Use the ballot dropboxes (Oregon Drop Box Locator)when you can! The League posts this map on our site during election seasons.  Put in your address to find your nearest ballot dropbox, and find your ballot information on Vote411.org.

 

See Oregon’s Vote By Mail Procedures Manual. It is posted with  other elections’ manuals and tutorials.

We hope these videos and FAQs will help you! Please contact us if we can help, lwvor@lwvor.org.

 

Best Vote-by-Mail Practices and FAQs

Request a (replacement) mail-in ballot 

Oregon is VBM so all ballots are mail-in (and can be delivered to dropboxes and Elections’ Offices).
To replace a ballot, see (ballot help):
If your ballot arrives damaged, you make a mistake, spill something, lose your ballot, or for any other reason, contact your county elections office for a replacement ballot or visit in person for help. Ask for any special COVID instructions to visit in person. 

Observing Ballot counting

Oregon supports unparalleled transparency. Contact your county elections office to observe the election process. See the Oregon VBM Manual, p. 22, and the Election Law Summary Manual, p. 20.

Deadlines for receiving ballots and postmarks

Oregon ballots must be received by 8 pm on election day. Late ballots are not counted. They must be received in the mail, into dropboxes/drop sites, or delivered to the County Elections offices.


The League pushes voters to get their ballots in on time, with heavy publicity. Campaigns and political parties contact voters daily using official daily ballot “match-back” reports, to get ballots in on time.


In 2020, we urged prompt voting and ballot return. There were no late acceptance provisions despite COVID concerns for adequate elections’ staffing and USPS cutbacks possibly slowing ballot delivery. 

 

Counting Timelines

When does ballot-counting start and when must counting be complete?

Ballot counting in Lane County, Oregon, for example, usually starts the Friday before election day.


NO results are ever released before polling closes. Counting continues on election day, until completed. Election certification is set for no later than 30 days after elections. See our 2022 election calendar for state statute references. Use the Oregon Revised Statute (law) look-up link from UO Law. Elections law is Chapter 260. Harder to navigate, and the official source to cite, is Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS). 

Prepare to count- Staffing

See Oregon Vote by Mail Procedures Manual. Experienced staff usually just needs a day’s review, newbies a half-day to train. We have been concerned about election staffing since many staffers are demographically COVID susceptible.  

How are ballot drop box sites determined?

Drop site requirements are set in statute.  Oregon’s dropbox map is linked in Vote411.org, active ~3 weeks before election day. See VBM Manual, p. 10 for dropbox security. 

How are ballot signatures matched?

Training people to compare and match signatures and the process is covered in the VBM Manual under Staffing, p. 36. 

Securing the ballots before, during, and after counting

What are the top reasons for REJECTING a ballot?

Per our state Elections Director, 2 big reasons- Voters forget to sign the ballot or the signature doesn’t match the one on file.

What are the key considerations for a vote-by-mail system to ensure all votes are counted?

  1. Voter Registration: If voters aren’t registered, they can’t vote! Publicize voter registration deadlines widely and remind often. Oregon’s 2016 DMV #MotorVoter only prompts for renewals every 8 years and not everyone drives. We haven’t provided party registration online. The actual paper postcard is easily overlooked. The default, assigning as a nonaffiliated voter (NAV), has increased dramatically, probably related to this. Note, NAV is not the same as a member of the Independent Party of Oregon.

  2. Ballot Mailing Alerts: Alert voters when ballots are being mailed and urge them to contact their county elections’ offices if they haven’t gotten theirs. We have strongly recommended that voters enroll with the state Elections Division, which currently cannot confirm that this program will be supported in 2022, MyVote:

    • Register to vote online, 

    • Verify registration- up to date and valid

    • Check ballot status, mailed out, received, processing completed

    • Track Your Ballot Sign up for emails to confirm ballot status. Encourage voters to sign up for ballot tracker, or whatever program your area may use, to track ballots, from mailed, to received, to counted. Here in CA, Multnomah CO, OR, King CO WA

  3. PUSH Deadlines- Ballots must be received in Oregon by 8 pm election day-postmarks don’t count, and now, with pre-paid envelopes, our state Elections Director cautions that envelopes aren’t postmarked anyway. Be sure to add realistic mail processing time, longer if post offices have closures, as we did a few years ago, and now with cutback delays reported.

  4. Secure Procedures See the videos and Manuals for thorough safety protocols addressing election ballot processing staff teams. They are always balanced by political parties in each team with everyone stopping together to ensure ballot security, for meal or restroom breaks, etc.

 
 

Who are key allies for supporting VBM?
Do they include BIPOC groups, the disability community, etc.?

The ACLU, Common Cause, and political parties are regulars, and they may not work directly with LWV. Disability Rights Oregon is very active but strictly advocates for their limited constituency, not to benefit voters overall. The State Library, TBABS, Talking Books and Braille Services, works directly for vision-related concerns. Keep in mind those advocating for current ballot measure issues, eg League of Conservation Voters, education communities, etc. 

What research or data can you share to show that voting by mail actually increased turnout, especially among underrepresented groups?

See The SoS Election Statistics page for general, primary, special election turnout, and ballot return history since 2000. OR VBM statistics, a comprehensive history, from 1981 up to 2006. 

 
 

Please explain your public education messaging on how to vote by mail

Is there any messaging or methods that seemed effective when explaining how to vote-by-mail to the general public?

Oregon started testing VBM in 1981, gradually expanding use, starting with small, local special elections. Please see the current linked videos above because messaging has evolved. 

How did you measure VBM effectiveness?

Image by Obi Onyeador

What were some of the challenges VBM advocates had to overcome?

Vote by mail, automatic voter registration, pre-paid ballot postage, pre-registration for younger voters, all have been opposed. From NPR, 2018, "If and when a bank gets robbed or a car gets stolen, we don't stop using banks or cars. We enforce the laws we have in place."

How should advocates for all-mail elections prepare for these challenges?

Encourage elections offices to prepare ASAP. Note this report was written in March 2020, in response to COVID concerns, and has been updated:

  • Establish needs (ballot quantity, cost, time, and materials’ availability), for paper, printing, processing, and staffing/labor needs.

  • Equipment needs, requirements to acquire and have it in place, system compatibility, with staff trained to use it. Many are concerned now with delivery “pipeline” delays.

  • We are concerned that veteran poll-working crews, many older and at higher COVID risk, may not be available. 

  • Coordinate a publicity campaign with trustworthy branding, a multi-faceted outreach to various communities and media, especially social media.

  • Include partners like the Dept of Education, youth groups, our Leagues of Women Voters, Common Cause, the ACLU, disability and minority voters rights’ groups, Chambers of Commerce, City Clubs, etc.

 

Oregon has compiled election statistics from 1992-2018, for cost per ballot (received), and per voter, with turnout. Note, some of the variance smaller voter turnout is due to special elections. 

 
We first shared this when states were looking to expand VBM, for  COVID protection.  (Revised Nov 2021)