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Switching parties creates dilemma

Oregon has witnessed an unprecedented jump in new voters registering to participate in an election. But that increase hasn't come without some complications.

Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury said Friday in Medford that since Jan. 1 more than 63,000 Oregonians have registered to vote for the first time, a number that includes more than 37,000 people between the ages of 18 and 30. In addition, 71,000 people have changed their party affiliation.

It's that change that could lead to complications for some voters, Bradbury said in a talk to the Medford Rogue Rotary Club. Because county clerks began pulling voter registration lists early to start the process for mailing more than 2 million ballots, a voter who changed registration after the names were pulled may very well get two ballots, one for the primary of his or her original party and one for the new party. Ballots for the May 20 primary were sent out Friday.

Bradbury said the state's system will weed out anyone who sends in the wrong ballot, since they would not be listed as a member of the party they are voting on.

"Only one ballot per voter will be counted," he said.

But he noted that some voters may be confused and urged those who get two ballots to look them over and set aside or destroy the incorrect ballot to ensure their vote counts. If the incorrect ballot is sent in, only votes in non-partisan races or ballot measures would be counted.

Bradbury, a Democrat, said he has already been accused of some partisan tinkering with the vote. He said neither of the Republican candidates for president, John McCain or Ron Paul, have statements in the state Voters Pamphlet, but said there's a simple explanation for that: Neither sent in statements, despite requests from his office. His office is not allowed to provide information on candidates in the publication.

"I really can't write something in the Voters Pamphlet for John McCain — and I'm not really sure John McCain would want me to," he said.

Bradbury, who has served two terms in office and cannot seek re-election, said both the increase in new voters and the more than 2 million ballots being sent out were records for the state. He also noted that of the 71,000 party changes, more than 56,000 were people switching to the Democratic Party, which he attributed to the fact that the more heated contests in the presidential race and several statewide races are on the Democratic side.

Democrats are also making registration gains in Jackson County, where as of April 30 there were 46,229 Republicans, 41,126 Democrats and 27,386 voters registered as independents or with a third party. Republicans accounted for 40 percent of the total and Democrats 36 percent, which cut in half the Republicans' 42-34 percent advantage in the 2004 primary election.

Both Bradbury and Jackson County election officials said they are still tallying new registrations and party changes and hope to have final numbers within a few days.

Bob Hunter is editor of the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at 776-4460 or by e-mail at bhunter@mailtribune.com.