COMMENTARY

Why Oregon's election system could be a model for South Carolina

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Oregon's system of Vote By Mail offers a model that for South Carolina would save millions of dollars to buy new voting machines, avoid long lines for voting and ensure total security for elections results.

It is used for all elections: federal, state and local, whether primary, general or special, and has been in operation for roughly 25 years. One result is increased voter participation by working parents and senior citizens. The system makes voter fraud virtually impossible, and research has shown that the system favors neither party.

The idea originated with Oregon county elections officials and has fully met their goals of substantially saving money and increasing voter participation. Vote By Mail has been adopted in whole or part by three western states, and South Carolina could become a leader in showing it works in the South.

Twenty days before each election, ballots are mailed by county election officials to the address as registered by each voter. Each ballot is customized to the address/precinct so that they are voting only on the federal, state and local elections for their precinct. Any registered voter who doesn't receive a ballot in the mail for some reason, or loses one, can go to the elections office and get one.

Ballot integrity is ensured by the voter signing the return envelope on the outside and the elections officials visually matching that signature to the signature on file with the voter's registration. The ballot itself is in a separate inside envelope. Once the signatures are matched, the inside envelope is separated from the outside one and the ballot scanned electronically to record it, which ensures both voter privacy and a secret ballot by each voter.

To ensure the integrity of the election, the system also provides a paper record of every vote, which can be recounted by hand if a recount is needed.

Every household in the state also receives by mail a voters pamphlet with a concise biography and party identification of each candidate. Voters can refer to it while filling out their ballot, which means they can vote at their own pace in the privacy of their homes during the three weeks before the election. Typically, the ballots are received before the last week.

Starting one week before the election, county elections officials begin counting ballots, using optical scanners, with results electronically recorded in the statewide voter database. This allows candidates, political parties and the media to monitor turnout as it unfolds.

This process means that early voters aren't bothered by robo-calls and mailers and knocking on the doors by canvassers because they are known to have already voted. It also means that candidates and their political party can focus on those who haven't yet voted. No elections results are released until the polls close on the day of the election.

Dr. Jack Bass is professor of humanities and social sciences emeritus at the college of Charleston, author or co-author of eight books that include The Palmetto State published by USC Press, and in his first career as a reporter, he covered South Carolina politics while based in Columbia.