SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Eric Sample, a spokesperson for the Multnomah County Elections Division, had two words to describe recent times: “Extremely busy.”
In just the seven days since the division mailed out ballots for the 2020 election, Multnomah County has already received ballots from a fourth of its registered voters — numbers far higher than previous presidential election years.
Other areas in Oregon are also seeing huge ballot return numbers. With 12 days to go until the election, more that 16% of Oregon’s voters have cast their ballots.
By comparison, at this time during the 2016 presidential election, 12.8% of registered voters in Oregon had mailed in their ballots, according to data from the Elections Division of the Oregon Secretary of State. In 2012 it was 11.4%.
“There is a record number of early ballots coming back,” Sample said about Multnomah County, Oregon’s most populous. “However, going into (the election cycle) we were expecting significant numbers.”
On Oct. 19 alone, the second day Oregon elections divisions received ballots, 9% of registered voters’ ballots were accounted for — a single-day percentage that the last two presidential elections did not see until the final three days before the election.
Oregon’s “historical” number of ballots returned is following suit with voting trends across the nation.
As of Friday, more than 22 million Americans had already cast ballots in the election, a record-shattering number of early votes.
Americans’ rush to vote is leading election experts to predict that a record 150 million votes may be cast and turnout rates could be higher than in any presidential election since 1908.
In Oregon nearly 3 million people are registered to vote. During the last two presidential elections, between 80% and 82% of registered voters in Oregon returned their ballots.
In the historically blue state, the number of registered Democrats outweighs the number of registered Republicans. Democrats account for 36% of Oregon’s registered voters, while Republicans make up 26%.
However, what some candidates and political experts are watching, perhaps more closely than the number of Republican and Democratic votes, are the votes of the non-affiliated, which account for 32% of Oregon’s registered voters.
In Oregon’s U.S. Senate race, between Democrat U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Republican Jo Rae Perkins, political experts say that Perkins’ only hope for winning is to earn 100% of Republican votes and a significant number of non-affiliated.
For Alex Spenser, a Democrat seeking a U.S. House seat for Oregon’s uncharacteristically reliably red 2nd Congressional District, there are 40,000 more Republican voters than Democrats in the district. But, there are 203,000 non-affiliated registered voters.
So far, 26% of registered Democrats in Oregon have returned their ballots, compared to 14% of Republicans and 9% of nonaffiliated.
In 2000 Oregon became the nation’s first all vote-by-mail state — followed by Colorado, Utah, Washington and, most recently, Hawaii.
“I feel for folks in other states who haven’t done vote-by-mail for very long,” Sample said, adding that this year, when ways of voting were forced to change due to the pandemic, states have looked to Oregon for guidance.
Ballots are sent to the state’s registered voters two to three weeks before the election and must be returned by 8 p.m. Election Day, Nov. 3. Oregonians then have the choice of mailing their ballot back, returning it to any county election office or bringing it to a designated drop site.
Leading up to the election, officials at various county election divisions said they have worked with local and federal law enforcement to ensure that ballot boxes are not tampered with.
Sample said that so far, with less than two weeks to go until the election, things are operating “smoothly.”