SALEM — Money, security and a new way of voting are part of the growing drumbeat of news surrounding the 2020 election. The number of candidates who have created campaign finance committees has jumped to 79 as of Tuesday. Candidates can’t officially file for office until Sept. 12, but fundraising political action committees can open their coffers earlier.
Some of the election buzz this past week in the Capitol:
Fundraising for the 2020 election is starting to pick up, according to statistics tracking contributions to lawmakers in Congress and the Legislature.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, whose district includes Deschutes County, has raised $858,755 in the current federal election cycle, which runs through 2020, according to the political finance watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics.
Walden has $1.7 million cash on hand, which includes money rolled over from the last election cycle. His top contributor, through individual contributions and affiliated political action committees, is Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp. The telecommunications conglomerate has given Walden a total of $31,200 as of June 30.
Campaign contributions to state lawmakers are compiled by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, has raised $19,280 since the beginning of the year. He has a current cash balance of $100,491. Knopp’s single largest contribution was $10,000 from Jonathan Bradford Handley, an independent director of Beaverton-based Great Ajax Corp. a real estate investment trust.
Unlike the Senate, House rules bar members from raising funds while the Legislature is in session. The 2019 session began Jan. 22 and ended June 30.
Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, has raised $47,883 since Jan. 1 and has a cash balance of $23,989. Her largest single contribution has been $2,000 from Nike Inc. and Affiliates, a political action committee affiliated with the Beaverton-based sportswear company.
Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, has raised $4,233 since the beginning of the year and has a cash balance of $4,833. Zika’s largest contribution was $1,000 from the Bend-based affiliate of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch brewing company.
Election security dry run
Information technology and election officials from all 36 Oregon counties recently gathered in La Grande for a four-hour election cybersecurity exercise sponsored by the Elections Division of the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. The event was in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. All Oregon counties belong to the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which shares threat information between federal, state and local governments.
Troubleshooting during the exercise included password strength and recognizing “phishing” attempts. Secretary of State Bev Clarno has said Oregon’s vote-by-mail system makes the state’s elections more secure because there are only 36 county election offices where ballots are gathered instead of having to secure thousands of voting booths across the state. Each location has a secured room for ballots that is under constant video surveillance. The tallying system that determines vote totals statewide is not connected to the internet, making hacking extremely difficult to impossible. There are paper backups for all documents.
Election facts vs. rumors
Clarno said Tuesday she expects the biggest election problem in 2020 to be the same one as the last presidential election in 2016 — unsubstantiated rumors being passed off as facts.
“Just because you read something on social media or online doesn’t mean it’s true,” Clarno said.
Elections Director Steve Trout said Tuesday that one popular myth is that noncitizens are being allowed to register to vote.
“That is simply not true,” Trout said. “Only those who have provided proof of citizenship when they go to DMV are automatically registered to vote.”
Trout said “Oregon continues to be a leader in secure elections.”
Wyden still worried
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, is a vocal champion of Oregon’s vote-by-mail system, which he would like to see expanded to the entire country.
Wyden said Friday that the election systems across the 50 states have weak points that adversaries — particularly Russian hackers — will exploit. The time left to shore up defenses before the November 2020 election is running out, he said.
“We would not ask a local sheriff to go to war against the missiles, tanks and planes of the Russian army,” Wyden said. “We shouldn’t ask a county election IT employee to fight a war against the full capabilities and vast resources of Russia’s cyber army. That approach failed in 2016, and it will fail again.”
A different way to vote
Oregon advocates of a national effort to change to a ranking system of voting are trying again to pass a pilot program in Eugene, according to a report by Chris Lehman with “Capital Currents” at radio station KLCC.
The goal is to eventually expand across the state and nationwide. The unique balloting system is known as STAR, (www.starvoting.us,) an acronym for Score Then Automatic Runoff. Instead of marking their ballots for a single person, voters rank each candidate from zero to five stars. The two top scoring candidates are finalists and the votes are retabulated instantly for a runoff. If a voter’s first pick didn’t make the runoff, it goes to the finalist they ranked higher.
Advocates say the system would result in officeholders who have broader appeal and therefore a wider mandate than under the current system.
A November 2018 STAR voting ballot measure in Eugene narrowly failed. The new effort is looking to qualify for the May 2020 ballot.
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