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“I just don’t think anyone’s really thought about it,” one national GOP consultant said about the lack of attention. “Oregon is not a place with a fraud culture, so we don’t feel a need to fight this stuff much there.”
“There is, at times, a naive sense that elections here are fair and clean and everyone will do the right thing. It speaks to our political culture,” veteran Portland-based GOP consultant Dan Lavey said. “It lends people to shy away from confronting these concerns.”
Officials at the Oregon secretary of state’s office are adamant about their measures to verify voters’ identities and combat fraud.
A voter casts a ballot by placing it in a secrecy envelope and signing it. Trained county election officials check that signature against the signature on file with the person’s voter registration. If there is a discrepancy, the voter is asked to come in to verify his ballot.
Vote-by-mail proponents believe strong penalties are key deterrents in eliminating abuse. Voter fraud is a class C felony and punishable by up to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Not all prosecutions reach that level. Last month, an 81-year-old man was sentenced to more than a year in prison and fined $5,000 for voting for both his deceased son and deceased brother.
But Lavey, a self-described longtime critic of vote-by-mail, is less concerned with fraud.
“The ability to influence the ballot they cast is far greater outside the secrecy of the polling place,” he said. That could be a growing argument if vote-by-mail and permanent absentee balloting continues to expand.
Now the state of Washington has followed Oregon’s lead by going to a vote-by-mail system. It will be fascinating to watch whether that extends to other states and clashes with the voter ID movement.