Vote By Mail Works – Especially in a Pandemic


Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno celebrates Vote By Mail as a record-breaking 1.3 million Oregonians exercise the right to vote – the highest turnout rate any 2020 primary

STATEWIDE – Oregonians can take heart in the fact that vote by mail is safe, secure, and healthy, especially during a pandemic. In the middle of the COVID-19 public health crisis that affected voters around most of the country, more than 1.3 million Oregonians (over 47% of eligible voters) participated in the primary. That smashed the previous primary record from four years ago by more than 100,000 votes. And no Oregonians had to to risk their health or safety.

But it’s not just this year – Oregon has been successfully voting through the mail for decades. Voters like it so much that in 1998 they passed an initiative to conduct all elections through the mail. In our recent primary election—as in every election in the state since 1998—there were no polling places, as the entire election is conducted safely and securely through the mail.

As Oregon’s Secretary of State, my job responsibilities include ensuring the fairness, accuracy, and security of Oregon’s elections. It’s a job made much easier thanks to our vote by mail system—a system that has been emulated by a growing number of other states, and is being used by many states in this November’s general election in response to COVID-19. We have been providing guidance, best practices, and lessons learned to our sister states that are jumping on the Oregon Trail to vote by mail. 

All of Oregon’s nearly 2.9 million registered voters received a ballot in the mail. They didn’t have to request it, it just arrived. They then had the opportunity to mail those completed ballots (in a postage paid envelope), or drop it off at one of the many secured drop boxes in the state.

There are many security measures to guard against fraud, including a signature line on the outside of the envelope that is checked against a digital signature on file. Every single ballot envelope signature is compared to the signature in the voter file to make sure it is a match. Our election workers are trained in forensic handwriting analysis to determine whether a signature matches. Each ballot return envelope contains a unique barcode that cannot be duplicated to make sure that voters can only return one ballot. Voters can even go online to track their ballot to confirm that it was received and counted. It is a system that costs less, is more secure, and has a paper trail. As the late Dennis Richardson, my predecessor as Secretary of State repeatedly stated, “You can’t hack paper.” The rate of voter fraud is so low that in 2016, the last presidential election, voter fraud accounted for 0.0001% of ballots cast, or only 22 cases.

I confess that when vote by mail was first adopted in Oregon, I was skeptical. To me, there was just something inspiring and patriotic about making the trip to my local polling place and entering the voting booth. There is something much more inspiring and patriotic, however, about safe and secure elections with much higher voter participation rates than the national average. In 2016, the last presidential election, Oregon ranked 7th out of 50 states in voter turnout, according to I’m proud to share that in our May 19th primary we saw the highest number of ballots cast for an Oregon primary election, totaling over 1.3 million – roughly 100,000 more than the last record-breaking primary vote in 2016. It is wonderful to see so many Oregonians participating in democracy!

Oregon has proven that vote by mail works and that it is safe, secure, and more cost effective, all with a high turnout. Oregonians love our vote by mail system and we will continue to protect the safety, security and fairness of every election and every vote.  

As Governor Kate Brown says, “Your vote is your voice, and every voice counts.”

About Author

Bev Clarno is Oregon's Secretary of State.

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