While visiting the New Hampshire capitol recently, we had a chance to visit with their secretary of state, Bill Garner. “Oh, so you are from Oregon," he said. "Remember your secretary of state, Phil Keisling? Well, he tried to talk New Hampshire into switching over to vote by mail. We are so glad we did not. Oregon’s vote participation has plummeted since the switch to mail-in ballots.” Is Mr. Garner correct? Are Oregon voters voting less under the vote-by-mail system?
— Larry S., Jacksonville
After digging into recent voting records, we also looked into whether New Hampshire has recently legalized marijuana, because we wondered what Mr. Garner had been smoking.
In 1998, 59 percent of Oregon voters participated in the election that ushered in vote by mail in the state. The following general election, with vote by mail now in effect, 79.8 percent of eligible voters participated in Oregon. In the general elections that followed, Oregon averaged 76.4 percent turnout.
The turnout exceeded that average this year, finishing at 78.8 percent, countering a national trend of declining percentages. That occurred even after the state Legislature approved a motor-voter registration that automatically registered anyone with an Oregon driver's license. While only 43 percent of those motor-voters who were automatically registered bothered to vote, 82 percent of people who registered themselves turned out in the election. The state set a record for the number of voters — just over 2 million people voted in the state, breaking the previous record of 1.8 million in 2008.
Meanwhile, nationally, about 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, down from 58.6 percent in 2012 and 61.6 percent in 2008, which was the highest mark in 40 years.
Oregon established vote by mail in 1998 with Ballot Measure 60, a citizens' initiative. The measure, which passed by a margin of 69.4 percent to 30.6 percent, made Oregon the first state in the United States to conduct its elections exclusively by mail.
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