Oregon, the first state to conduct all elections by mail, would join the ranks of states accepting ballots postmarked by Election Day under a bill that has cleared the Oregon House.
House Bill 3291 was approved on a 39-21 vote Monday and goes to the Senate.
The bill would align Oregon with 17 states — including Washington, California and Nevada — that allow ballots to count if they are postmarked by Election Day. Four other states count ballots if they are postmarked the day before the election. Oregon is among the states that have required ballots to be in the hands of county elections offices by the close of Election Day.
Under the bill, ballots would have to arrive in county elections offices no later than seven days after the election if they are to count. States that allow Election Day postmarks range widely from three to 20 days.
Rep. Dan Rayfield, a Democrat from Corvallis and the bill’s floor manager, said about 150 voters in Marion County cast ballots in last year’s general election, but they did not count because they were received after Election Day.
He said the concept of Election Day postmarks has been on the table for two decades, going back to when Republicans were the majority party in the House.
Rep. Greg Smith, a Republican from Heppner who then was in his first term, voted for it in 2001 and now. The only other Republican who voted for it Monday was Rep. Ron Noble of McMinnville. The other 21 Republicans voted against it.
The vote in the House Rules Committee was along party lines.
“It creates another level of complexity in a system that is problematic,” House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby said. “A deadline is a deadline is a deadline.”
Drazan said the U.S. Postal Service has shifted most of its mail processing to Portland in the two decades since the 2001 vote.
She also questioned a provision that allows a ballot to be counted even if the postmark is unclear.
Rayfield said that when a voter signs the return envelope containing a ballot — a signature is required for elections officials to match it with a signature on file — it will include a statement that the ballot was mailed on or before Election Day. If a voter does otherwise, it is considered perjury, a Class C felony punishable by a maximum fine of $125,000 and five years in prison.
Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, the state’s chief elections officer, endorsed an Election Day deadline in testimony to the House Rules Committee on Feb. 11. She said it was time to end public confusion about when ballots should be mailed in time for county elections officials to receive them.
The bill also would change an optional election date from the third Tuesday in September to the fourth Tuesday in August.