Nation should follow Oregon lead on vote by mail

The Oregon Department of Justice is furiously investigating reports of an election volunteer tampering with ballots in Clackamas County. In Florida (of course) voters staged a protest Sunday when elections officials in Miami-Dade County suddenly closed the doors on 200 people who had been told they could vote early. Nationally, there is furor around efforts to require photo ID at polling places.

During this hard-fought election, it’s not just the issues that we’re fighting over, it seems, but how our voices should be heard — the very core of our republican experiment in self-governance.

It may seem chaos around voting is inevitable. But it’s not. The controversy in Clackamas County is not emblematic of Oregon’s unique statewide vote-by-mail law. This scandal could erupt anywhere paper balloting or electronic voting occurs (particularly during hurricane season).

Instead, celebrate one thing that doesn’t happen in Oregon: waiting for hours to cast your vote.

In Miami-Dade, it took up to seven hours to cast a ballot in the state’s early voting. That’s not a wait, that’s a day’s work. On Tuesday, delays in voting were reported in Galveston, Texas (problems with voting machines), Newton, Connecticut (new ballot system) and Henrico, Virginia (power outage).

It’s obscene that ours, a republic established in 1776 in opposition to a British Parliament that taxed its colonies and denied colonial suffrage, would make it so hard for residents to cast a ballot.

But don’t despair. In 1995, Oregon was the first state to conduct a federal primary exclusively by mail. In 1998, voters affirmed their preference for vote-by-mail by passing Measure 60, requiring statewide vote-by-mail elections.

Since then, our state has seen gains in voter turnout.

Former Secretary of State Phil Keisling says in 2010 only two states, Oregon and its vote-by-mail loving neighbor Washington, saw voter turnout edge above 70 percent. That’s an important yardstick, because without a presidential race to draw out shy voters, getting participation that high is extraordinary.

Sometimes you’ll hear partisan talk about what voter turnout does for one party or another. It’s true that, typically, high voter participation benefits Democrats. That’s because Democrats outnumber Republicans nationwide, but are less likely to vote.

But all of that is a sideshow to this: The first right for all citizens is the right to vote. It’s by expressing our right to vote that we as citizens enshrined the right to free speech, freedom from unlawful search and seizure and the right to maintain a militia.

Any effort to make it harder for citizens to vote is a step in the wrong direction. Thankfully, in Oregon, we’ve already taken a giant leap in the right direction. We eagerly wait for the rest of the nation to follow our lead.

Vets deserve support beyond Election Day

Over the next several days, residents of western Washington County, like millions of others across this country, will honor the men and women who served their nation in war and peace-time, in combat or support services.

And, as this issue of the News-Times shows, there are many ways to do so, including the annual assembly at Forest Grove High School, which is a moving event for all participants.

Veterans Day is an important holiday, but this year, as our nation prepares for a new generation of soldiers to return from war, it’s again a sobering one.

It’s now clear that whoever is in the White House next year, most of our 68,000 troops now stationed in Afghanistan will be coming come in 2014.

And it’s also clear that they will face significant challenges.

A disproportionate number of veterans, who make up about 13 percent of the population, end up battling substance abuse, domestic violence and mental illness. Government officials estimate that a third of all homeless people and a fifth of all suicide victims in the United States are veterans.

Compounding those problems is the lack of jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced last week that the veterans’ unemployment rate dropped to 6.3 percent in October, which is good news. But the same report showed that the unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans nudged up last month, from 9.7 percent to 10 percent, putting it well above the national rate of 7.9 percent.

For the past several months, we’ve heard politicians at all levels pledge their support to our nation’s veterans.

The real test will come after the ballots are counted and Friday’s tributes are over. Voting is a key component of the democratic process, but it’s only one. Those charged with helping our veterans find services and jobs need to hear from us more than once every four years.

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