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Ballot postage becomes election issue

Secretary of State candidates spar over U.S. Postal communication


On the heels of a ballot tampering investigation in Clackamas County, Oregon voters are now wondering if there is a chance insufficient postage could prevent their vote from being counted.

Dan Meek, co-chair of the Independent Party of Oregon, said he was shocked to see a copy of a letter from the United States Postal Service (USPS) Postmaster General, Patrick Donahoe, refusing the demand of Secretary of State Kate Brown's Director of Elections that the USPS stop delivering Oregon ballots that have insufficient postage.

According to the letter, dated Oct. 31, Oregon Secretary of State's Director of Elections Stephen Trout told the Postmaster General that delivering these ballots to the county clerks is unconstitutional.

"Halting the delivery of these ballots would hurt Oregon's rural voters the most," said Meek. Meek said rural voters depend on using the mail to vote.

The Postmaster General's letter rejected the Secretary of State's demand, stating:

"The Postal Service has received your communications regarding the Postal Service's policy to deliver election ballots even if they lack sufficient postage. You request that the Postal Service cease this practice, claiming that its continuance conflicts with Oregon law, as well as unspecified provisions of the United States Constitution. We disagree with those assertions. We believe that our current policy, by ensuring the timely delivery of ballots sent through the mail, properly reflects the appropriate role of the Postal Service in the functioning of the electoral process."

Meek said with postage rates increasing just about every year, it is understandable that some voters would stamp their ballots with one cent or two cents too little postage and said sometimes stamps just fall off, especially in Oregon's damp weather.

Jillian Schoene, spokesperson for the Kate Brown campaign, said "Voters need to be assured that their ballots will be accepted and counted."

Schoene said "Republican Knute Buehler and his supporters are being irresponsible and trying to politicize the election. This is a desperate, last-minute ploy by Buehler’s campaign that unnecessarily confuses voters."

Brown is in a heated battle with Republican challenger, Knute Buehler, to retain her post as Oregon Secretary of State.

Schoene said Oregon counties received clear direction from Brown on Oct. 26 to "accept and count each and every ballot they receive, period."

Multnomah County Elections Director Tim Scott said, "We are accepting ballots without postage based on advice from the Secretary of State."

Allen Alley, chairman of the Republican Party of Oregon, said, "I think it's gonna hurt rural Oregonians and that is bias toward Republican voters."

"Those are the people that live farthest away from post offices," Alley said. "They have to drive 50, 60, 70 miles to drop off their ballot. They're going to be disenfranchised."

The issue of postage affecting ballots comes after allegations surfaced of ballot tampering by an elections employee in Clackamas County.

Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall said a criminal violation of election law was uncovered by her office and reported to the Secretary of State's Elections Division on Wednesday.

Hall declined to identify the worker or describe the specific nature of the violation.

In an email to KOIN Saturday afternoon, Hall said: "Every ballot mark by the voter will be counted as intended by the voter and any alteration of the voter’s ballot in violation of Election Law will not be counted."

It's too late to mail your ballot in for Tuesday's election. All ballots now must be dropped off at an official drop box location.

To make sure your vote counted, you can track your ballot online at secure.sos.state.or.us/orestar/vr/showVoterSearch.do