Mail-in ballots change how Oregon campaigns

Mail-in ballots change how Oregon campaigns

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Ballots in Oregon's vote-by-mail election start going out on Friday, and the state's two major parties in a tight gubernatorial race are preparing to use call centers, "victory offices" and get-out-the-vote tactics they learned in 2008 to narrow their focus on their target: undecided voters. | More Campaign 2010 News

Democrats had large gains in voter registration two years ago, aided by the online and social-media efforts of then-candidate Barack Obama. Democratic Party of Oregon director Trent Lutz said the party will keep a close eye on the number of voters each day after the ballots go out — and just as importantly, where they voted — and let that inform their daily strategy.

"The biggest thing that (vote-by-mail) affects is it gives us a window to still talk to voters while they are still thinking very clearly about the election," Lutz said.

That's critical in a tight gubernatorial race where Democrat John Kitzhaber has faced questions about a mortgage loan he received from a man he later appointed to an influential financial post and Republican Chris Dudley has been questioned about his decision to live in Washington state to avoid some Oregon taxes.

Each episode — and some smaller issues in between — have provided the state parties with fodder for talking points and negative advertising. Voters can expect to hear more about them in the final push of the campaigns.

Oregon is the only state that votes exclusively by mail, a system implemented in 2000 after it was approved by voters.

Past vote-by-mail elections show "a two-humped camel," said Oregon Director of Elections Steve Trout. There is a flood of voters who send in their ballots as soon as possible, a lull of a week or more, and then another "hump" in the last 48 hours, when another chunk of the electorate scrambles to get their ballot in by the deadline.


Here are the things Trout doesn't miss about the brick-and-mortar voting systems he has overseen in other states: delivery of voting equipment, ensuring ballot security to and from the polling location, equipment return and recovery and vetting poll workers.

And that's not counting Oregon counties' ability to scan in ballots before Election Day, which Trout said leads to faster results the night of the election.

"It's nice to be able to not have to worry about polling places being open and polling places staying open," Trout said.

For the Oregon Republican Party, targeting undecided voters — or those who simply haven't returned their ballots — will become crucial in the last few days before Election Day.

"The trends have really changed; there used to be more early voters," said Oregon Republican Party spokesman Greg Leo. With vote-by-mail, "voting becomes later and later, and we have to work harder to know who's voted."

They'll do that with call centers and "victory offices," a handy GOP code word for the smaller offices that hand out campaign materials and host candidate rallies.

"We pretty much know where the votes are," Leo said. "We've made phone calls to people and found out generally who they're supporting and how they are likely to vote, and use that database of voters going forward."

The registration deadline is Tuesday at midnight, and voter registration drives at Oregon's two major universities began in earnest this month. At Portland State, a biennial fall tradition has held firm: students in monochromatic T-shirts bearing clipboards once again approached strangers offering to register them to vote.

This year's Democratic voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts have focused on "person-to-person" contact, Lutz said, and they're hoping that pays off when ballots are mailed.

"We're going to run the same program we've always run," Lutz said. "There's a certain percentage of the population that we've guessed will pretty reliably vote for Dudley and a percentage that will reliably vote for Kitzhaber.

"We still want to be talking to those middle-ground voters."



Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.