By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

In a year that saw perhaps the lowest turnout in decades elsewhere, Oregon probably had the highest voter turnout in the nation, according to preliminary results.

A Bulletin review of each state’s voter turnout shows Oregon’s 69.5 percent turnout is highest in the U.S. for the second-straight midterm election. States have about a month to certify vote counts, but it is unlikely that any state’s official results will rise above Oregon’s.

Elections officials are taking the high turnout to trumpet Oregon’s mail-in ballot system and other election reforms that they say have helped drive up votes.

“Oregon is a shining light to the rest of the country … to get those who’ve said ‘yes, I will at least get to the registration stage’ to actually cast their ballot, even in an election that is a good deal more boring” than a presidential election, said Phil Keisling, director of the Center for Public Service at Portland State University.

Keisling championed the current vote-by-mail system during his two-term tenure as secretary of state in the 1990s, before the method was first used in 2000. Washington and Colorado have also adopted the all vote-by-mail practice.

Nationally, voters didn’t turn out, with states like Texas reporting voter turnout in the low 30 percent range. It’s not accurate to compare all equally, however, as not all states had U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races that drive up voter participation, as Oregon did.

Still, many states that hosted races that attracted the attention of billionaire donors and the national parties still had low turnout, such as Virginia (about 57 percent) and North Carolina (44 percent), according to the early figures.

“This was the most expensive, probably the most blogged-about general election in the history of America,” Keisling said. “All eyes are on it, and the bottom is falling out,” he said, referring to a nationwide drop in turnout.

The Bulletin’s review included unofficial results posted on states’ elections divisions websites, some estimates based on ballots cast in the highest-profile elections in different states and figures from the Associated Press.

Oregon also had high-profile ballot measures in recreational marijuana legalization, GMO labeling requirements and top-two primary that helped engage voters.

But the state has shown sustained high turnout in midterms, when fewer registered voters typically actually vote.

“Part of what’s going on here is the rest of the country is tanking and Oregon continues to hold its own,” said Tony Green, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kate Brown.

Brown has said she will seek more elections reforms in the next legislative session.

Brown in 2013 unsuccessfully pushed for a system in which eligible voters would automatically be registered when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Voters who wished not to be registered could take the step to unregister. Brown said she’ll advocate for that change again in 2015.

Brown lauded Tuesday’s preliminary results in a written statement Friday, saying “I’m very pleased that Oregon continues to be among the national leaders in voter turnout. It’s a testament to the engagement of Oregon voters who care about the issues.”

The state doesn’t rank highest for turnout among all eligible voters. Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida who tracks American elections, ranks Oregon eighth nationally for eligible voter turnout at 48.6 percent.

The state’s registered turnout Tuesday was down 2 percent from 2010, but numbers are expected to rise to about the 2010 level when ballots dropped off at the wrong place are sorted out, Green said.

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

tanderson@bendbulletin.com

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