Tag Archives: Oregon

Vote By Mail

I’ve been banging the drum for vote-by-mail for a long time. What just happened in Wisconsin demonstrates its importance, as a recent op-ed by John Hickenlooper–former Governor of Colorado–emphasizes.

The election chaos in Wisconsin on Tuesday sent a clear message: The nation can’t afford a repeat in November. Poll workers, many of them vulnerable senior citizens, and voters were forced to risk covid-19 infection to participate in American democracy, with scandalously long lines at the few polling places that were open in some areas. Gov. Tony Evers (D) had issued an executive order to reschedule the election, but Republicans fought against it and the state’s Supreme Court blocked it.

Republicans also attacked a sensible proposal by Evers to essentially turn the election into one conducted by mail, with absentee ballots sent to every registered voter. President Trump has lately chimed in with criticism that mail-in balloting is “horrible,” “corrupt” and invites “fraud.”

As Hickenlooper says, Colorado’s experience rebuts the GOP’s hysterical pushback.  Colorado wasn’t the first state to go to vote by mail (Oregon and Washington were first), but its citizens have been voting from home for six years. Eligible Colorado voters receive a ballot in the mail roughly three weeks before Election Day, giving them time to do research on candidates and ballot initiatives. They complete the ballot from the comfort of their own homes, and either mail the ballot in or deposit it at one of hundreds of drop-off locations around the state.

Denver city and county voters even have the ability to track the status of their ballots, with email or text notifications, as they travel through the postal system. The “Ballot TRACE” software ensures that every mailed ballot is accounted for.

So what about those predictions of fraud?

The states that vote by mail have devised numerous safeguards against fraud. Colorado conducts rigorous risk-limiting audits; it also maintains a centralized database with voter signatures, and it tracks ballot returns. And as Hickenlooper points out, a big advantage of using mailed ballots is that paper can’t be hacked.

Other advantages? Higher turnouts (Oregon’s turnout puts Indiana’s to shame and in Colorado, the increase was particularly noticeable for “low propensity” populations) and significantly lower costs–Hickenlooper says Colorado saved $6 per voter.

It isn’t just Oregon, Washington and Colorado; other states have been moving in this direction. Voters in 28 of Utah’s 29 counties automatically get ballots at home. Nebraska and North Dakota also use vote by mail to varying degrees. Nearly half of the states allow some elections to be conducted by mail, and many allow voters to cast no-excuse absentee ballots.

The reason the GOP is so adamantly opposed to vote-by-mail is obvious: it increases turnout, and Democrats win when turnout increases. Turnout this November will be especially important. As I wrote in the wake of the Supreme Court’s shameful decision allowing gerrymandering to continue, we will need a citizen tsunami sufficient to overcome the blatantly rigged districts the Supreme Court has declined to rule unconstitutional.

Huge turnouts would be likely to do more than just eject the corrupt and unfit Trump Administration. A large enough turnout could wrest control of the Senate from McConnell, and clean out large numbers of the GOP’s state and local enablers. If that tsunami is big enough, it might even allow old-fashioned Republicans appalled and dispirited by what the GOP has become to retake their party from the white nationalists who have captured it.

If that doesn’t happen…history will record Mitch McConnell’s capture of the Supreme Court  and the GOP’s unhindered voter suppression as a successful coup d’etat.

Stop The World…Your GOP In Action

Evidently, when Ivanka wasn’t being inappropriately intrusive at the recent G20 meeting in Tokyo, her father was trying to talk other heads of state into abandoning their commitments under the Paris accords.

If you harbor any doubt that what remains of the Republican Party is an uninformed and anti-intellectual Trump cult, the party’s assault on efforts to ward off the worst effects of climate change is the most obvious evidence.

What happened just recently in Oregon is an example.

A major climate-change bill, which [activists] had worked on for the last several years, was on the verge of passing the state legislature, which, since last year’s midterm elections, has been controlled by a supermajority of Democrats. Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, had campaigned on its policies, and planned to sign it. On climate policy, Brown had said, “Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally.” Then, last week, eleven Republican state senators walked out of the statehouse, fled the capitol, and apparently hid out of state, in order to deny the rest of the Senate the necessary twenty-person quorum required to move the bill to a vote. Representatives of fringe right-wing militia groups said that they would protect the state senators “at any cost,” and that protesters supporting the bill at the capitol should be warned of their presence.

The proposal had gone through lengthy negotiations and public meetings. Lawmakers had taken citizens’ comments. The bill was supported by all nine of the state’s federally recognized Native American tribes, and even by the state’s electric utilities. Major corporations in the state supported it.

In order to defy both the majority of the legislature and public opinion, the Republican lawmakers simply fled.

On Friday, members of right-wing militia groups including the Three Percenters of Oregon, who took part in the 2016 takeoverof Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, posted a different form of encouragement on social media, saying that they were willing to provide the hiding senators “security” and “refuge.” They also appeared to be organizing a weekend protest at the capitol, scheduled for when lawmakers gathered on Saturday. A commenter on Facebook offeredto bring “a few pickup loads of manure” to drop on the capitol’s steps. An unnamed source told Will Sommer, of the Daily Beast, that “dozens of armed militia members have ‘mobilized’ to protect the state senators, and said there was potential for violence if law enforcement officials try to bring the senators back to Oregon.” In response, Oregon state troopers recommended that the capitol be closed on Saturday “due to a possible militia threat,” according to a spokeswoman from the Senate president’s office.

Poll after poll confirms that a substantial majority of Americans is concerned about climate change, and believes government should forcefully address it.

I’m old enough to remember when politicians would reflect popular opinion–even when they didn’t agree with it– in order to be re-elected. Thanks to the demise of genuine democracy–courtesy of Citizens United and gerrymandering, among other assaults–today’s Republican lawmakers are responsive only to one constituency: their donors, who prioritize today’s bottom line over tomorrow’s planetary survival.

In an administration notable for lack of consistency (not to mention competence),  there has been one area of single-mindedness: attacks on science accompanied by persistent rollbacks of environmental protections.

Self-destruction is by definition insane.

What if I had been told by trustworthy experts that my furnace had a 95% chance of  blowing up at any moment, but I refused to replace it because I wanted to augment my already fat bank account and there was a 5% chance it wouldn’t blow? That would be nuts. What good would my bank account do me if my furnace blew up and killed me?

Yet that is the position of today’s GOP.  There is no rational defense for that position, because it is indefensible. It is, quite literally, insane.

Unfortunately, in the immortal words of Tom Lehrer, “We’ll all go together when we go.”


An Interesting Double Standard

As the standoff between the loony-tunes cowboys who seized the Oregon bird sanctuary and the feds has dragged on, a number of folks have wondered whether federal authorities would be as forbearing if the miscreants were African-American or (gasp!) Muslim.

If history is predictive, evidently not. At Dispatches from the Culture Wars, we learn about a similar incident that did, in fact occur, in 1979, in Harris Neck, Georgia,

where members of the African-American Gullah culture of former slaves had been screwed over by the government. Unlike those in Oregon, these men were unarmed. And they were black. And that seems to have made all the difference.

As the Oregonian reports,

The drama unfolding with armed occupiers holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns is similar to a standoff that made national headlines 37 years ago in Harris Neck, Ga.

But there are also stark differences, including the race of the Harris Neck occupiers – mostly displaced descendants of West African slaves — and the tactics used by the FBI to quickly remove what the media casually called “squatters.”

Also, the 40 members of People Organized for Equal Rights who set up a camp on the patch of land south of Savannah on April 30, 1979, were unarmed.

The grievances of the “squatters” were considerably more substantial than those of the Bundys:

Following the Civil War, a white plantation owner deeded the land on the Georgia coast to a former slave. In the decades that followed, the descendants of slaves moved to Harris Neck to build houses, factories and boats. They fished, hunted for oysters and grazed cattle.

Harris Neck evolved into a thriving community. Its members were recognized as a culturally unique group of African Americans called Gullah.

But in 1942, U.S. military officials gave Harris Neck residents just three weeks via eminent domain to leave their property so they could construct an airbase for training pilots and conducting anti-submarine flights.

As the community’s young men fought in Europe during World War II, the U.S. government, encouraged by white county commissioners, came to Harris Neck and gave residents a notice to move, according to historical research by Emory University. Federal authorities bulldozed or burned Harris Neck’s houses, barns, businesses or crops.

The land was never returned to its Gullah owners, and eventually became the Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge;  it was that land that the unarmed protestors occupied. Unlike the situation in Oregon, the federal authorities moved quickly; they obtained a court order to remove the demonstrators exactly one day after the “camp-in” began. Four men who refused to leave were forcibly dragged out, and sentenced to a month in jail for trespassing.

In all fairness, after Ruby Ridge and Waco, federal law enforcement personnel have altered the way they handle these situations, and for good reason.

Still, I wonder whether they’d be this patient if the occupiers were members of a disfavored or disempowered community….

The Real Lesson from Oregon

Recently, the Guardian ran an article about Oregon’s successful effort to tighten its gun laws. It was interesting to learn about the state’s strategies and players–but the real lesson wasn’t about controlling access to guns.

It was about enabling democracy and facilitating–rather than suppressing–the vote.

In 2014 during Oregon’s midterm elections, the NRA poured cash into the coffers of pro-gun candidates, and a coalition of opponents poured money into the campaigns of anti-gun candidates. According to Everytown, which is backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, it alone funneled $600,000 into the state. The NRA made phone calls, sent mail, urged its members to contact their legislators. In the meantime Everytown bought ads on television and online.

That’s when the effort in Oregon reached its third step. “If you ask people about ‘gun control’, they might say they don’t like it. But if you ask people about specifics, like assault rifles or background checks, they’re overwhelmingly for it. People want change,” Okamoto said. “So we put the vote in their hands.”

It’s simple to vote in Oregon, which holds all elections by mail. When residents apply for drivers’ licenses they are automatically registered to vote, and about three weeks before an election they receive a ballot in the mail. They fill it out at home and send it back. “It’s so easy,” Okamoto said.

For years, pundits and politicians alike have bemoaned the reality that the NRA can–and does–prevent legislators from responding to the huge majorities of Americans (including a majority of NRA members) who favor stricter controls over gun purchases. But they’ve never connected the dots.

If we want policies that reflect public sentiment, we have to allow the public to express that sentiment at the ballot box.

In a constitutional democracy, there are certainly things we don’t vote on. We are not a pure democracy, and “majoritarianism” is–and should be–tempered by the protections of the Bill of Rights and the Rule of Law.

But in those areas where legislation should reflect the public will, we should be facilitating the expression of that public will–not suppressing it.

Oregon’s vote by mail system and other measures making voting easier rather than more difficult deserves to be emulated elsewhere.


Why Can’t We Be More Like Oregon?

As I’ve previously noted, early in the session, Indiana’s legislature moved quickly to kill a bill that would have kept our polling places open for two extra hours. (Indiana’s polls are the nation’s earliest to close). It was just one more effort to suppress the votes of people–mostly elderly, working poor and/or black–who might vote for the “wrong” party.

If we really wanted our citizens to vote (“we” clearly don’t), we’d take a leaf from Oregon’s book.

Call it “motor voter” on steroids.

New legislation signed into law today in Oregon paves the way for the state to one day have close to 100% voter registration. The new law takes the federal “motor voter” law to new levels and registers a person to vote when they obtain or renew a state driver’s license or ID – and it’s partially retroactive.

The law dictates that once residents interact with the state DMV – whether to get a license or ID for the first time, or renew an existing one – they’ll become registered to vote if they aren’t already. The registration will be provisional for 21 days, during which time applicants will be notified of their new status and be given a chance to become affiliated with a political party or to opt-out of the voting process altogether. In essence, Oregon will now be the first state to approach voting with an “opt-out” mindset, as opposed to “opt-in.”

I’ve written before about the virtues of Oregon’s vote by mail system, which is not only convenient, but allows time for thoughtful consideration of ballot choices. Every registered voter is automatically sent a ballot about two weeks before Election Day, and can either mail their ballots back or return them in person.

According to the Oregonian, 

Because of Oregon’s careful signature verification process, fraud and other electoral mischief are virtually nil.

Recounts in extremely close races are based on paper ballots of every vote — not receipts or electronic voting machines. So there’s no danger in Oregon of software hackers casting ersatz votes by the thousands — not to mention no electricity to operate electronic voting machines or impassable roads and polling places 3 feet underwater.

In the 2014 midterm election, 53.5% of Oregon’s registered voters actually voted. The state was fifth in voter turnout

Indiana was dead last. Gee–I wonder why.