Oregon ballots

A stack of envelopes filled with Oregon ballots sits in the Washington County Clerk's Office in this 2019 photo.

The Oregon Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday reported big numbers for ballots returned for the Nov. 3 election and big numbers for fundraising and spending on ballot measures and candidates.

Surge in ballot returns continues in Oregon

As of Thursday morning, 57.5% of the state’s 2,949,696 eligible voters had returned their ballots for Tuesday’s election.

Umatilla County reported 46.7% of ballots returned, the lowest return rate in the state. Malheur County, with 47.8% of ballots returned, is the only other county where ballot returns were less than 50%.

Benton County tops the list with 65% of ballots turned in. Other key counties: Deschutes (60.6%), Multnomah (60%), Clatsop (57.4%) Marion (52.9%).

Democrats continue to outpace Republicans in returning ballots. As of Thursday, 71% of Democrats in the state had voted vs. 61% of Republicans. The overall state average is lower because nonaffiliated voters have returned only 39% of ballots.

Democrats want to break a record

Democrats are hoping a big turnout could push their majorities in the Legislature above the point where they can guarantee a quorum without Republicans.

Oregon is one of the few states requiring two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber be present to do business. GOP senators walked out in 2019 to stop a vote that would have likely approved a carbon cap-and-trade program. In 2020, Republicans in the House and Senate walked out over the issue again — though Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, did not take part.

To surpass two-thirds majorities, the Democrats would have to add two seats to their current 38. In the Senate, they need two more seats from their current 18.

Getting to 40 House members would be a history-making record-breaker for Democrats. The party has never had more than 38 of the 60 seats in the House. Besides the current House, they also had 38 in two sessions during the Depression in the 1930s.

The GOP has had some staggering majorities. It held a 59-1 edge in 1907 and 58-2 in 1947.

Democrats have had a majority in the House since 2013. It was evenly split between parties in 2011. The last time Republicans held a majority was in 2005.

Republicans last held a majority in the 30-member Senate in 2001. The parties were evenly split in 2003. Democrats have held the majority ever since. The record Democratic Senate majority is 24 seats in 1977. Republicans’ biggest majority was 29 in 1931.

Turnout troubling for GOP incumbents

A voting surge by Democrats could spell trouble for a pair of Republican incumbents in Deschutes County seeking reelection. As of Thursday, 75% of Democrats in the county have cast ballots, while Republicans are at 64%.

Helt is seeking a second term in a district where Democrats hold an 8,752-voter registration edge. Knopp is seeking reelection in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 5,500.

Both districts have a large number of nonaffiliated voters who have been significantly slower in casting ballots. Political analysts say that the nonaffiliated vote tends to mirror that of the partisan percentages.

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