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Don’t tamper with mail ballot deadline

Oregon’s vote-by-mail system is a model for the nation that other states should emulate. The system has been tweaked to make it even more convenient for voters to cast their ballots, and we have encouraged that, but the latest effort in the state Legislature is unnecessary and could cause more harm than good.

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House Bill 3291 would allow ballots to be counted if they were postmarked no later than election day and received by the county clerk within seven days.

Under the rules now in place, ballots must be received in the county elections department by 8 p.m. on Election day or they do not count. Period.

That might sound harsh — other states allow mail ballots to count if postmarked by election day — it’s really the best policy and should not be tampered with.

Ballots in Oregon are mailed to voters three weeks before each election. That should be more than enough time for anyone to mark their ballot and mail it back. To make things even easier on voters, the 2019 Legislature approved postage-paid return envelopes for ballots, a change that took effect last year.

Elections officials recommend mailing ballots at least a week before Election Day to make sure it arrives on time. But even if you procrastinate too long, all you have to do is take the ballot to one of seven drop box locations in Jackson County. A second Medford drop box was added at the Medford Library to make voting easier during the pandemic.

Oregon has been conducting all its elections by mail for two decades. The 8 p.m. deadline on Election Day has been in place all that time. We’re not aware that it has caused any undue hardship to voters, and everyone should be familiar with the rule by now.

What would happen if the state allowed postmarks to count? The outcome of close races might not be known for a week. After the claims of election irregularities that arose in the November 2020 election, the last thing we need is a change that adds any element of uncertainty to future election outcomes.

Oregon’s vote-by-mail system ought to be copied by every other state in the country. It has proven to be efficient, convenient for voters and secure, because it uses paper ballots, not electronic systems vulnerable to tampering. Despite the fears of opponents 20 years ago, fraud has been virtually nonexistent.

There is one provision in HB 3291 that would be an improvement: It would allow county clerks to open and begin counting ballots as soon as they are received rather than waiting until the polls close on Election Day. That would mean more timely results on election night. But it’s not worth passing the rest of the bill to get that change.

HB 3291 passed the House 39-21 on May 24 and is now in the Senate Rules Committee. It should be allowed to quietly die there.