Under Oregon law, every vote counts. It counts, that is, unless a ballot is not turned in by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Late ballots are not counted, no matter what voters’ intent.

During the 2018 general election, nearly 100 Multnomah County voters learned that lesson the hard way. They learned something else, as well — if you want your vote to count, don’t leave it task of delivering your ballot to someone else.

That’s what led to last year’s problem. Defend Oregon — the coalition of unions and other groups — picked up ballots in Multnomah County the day before the election, according to the secretary of state’s notice of proposed penalty. Of one group of 97 collected, 96 were for the 2018 general election and one was for the May 2018 primary election.

There was a problem, however. Defend Oregon’s staff failed to deliver those ballots to the Multnomah County Elections Division before the 8 p.m. deadline. Instead, they were taken to that office on the following day and not counted as a result.

While simple human error may behind that failure, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and his staff propose that Defend Oregon be fined $94,750 for failing to deliver the 96 valid ballots.

It may sound harsh, but even inadvertently denying people the right to vote should have serious consequences.

As the penalty notice put it, “In the Secretary’s view, the harm of not having a ballot counted is more severe than any other violation of election law.” The failure not only harms individual voters, it is harmful to the election process and damages confidence in the election itself.

Giving Defend Oregon a well-deserved punishment aside, there’s another lesson for voters in all this: If you want your vote to count, take responsibility for getting your ballot in on time.

Borrow a stamp, if need be, and mail it early. Or turn it in to local election officials early, rather than waiting until 7:59 p.m. on Election Day.

22512210