It’s back. For the third time in five years, Oregon lawmakers are being asked to have the state pick up the tab for voters who want to mail their ballots to a county clerk’s office. Senate Bill 861, introduced at the request of Gov. Kate Brown, would do just that. It remains as bad an idea as it was when it first was introduced in 2015.
Admittedly, the amount the state expects to spend isn’t huge by government standards — estimates range from $1.52 million to as high as $2.9 million per biennium. Lawmakers are used to allocating billions, not millions, to some agencies, and even relatively inexpensive budget items receive more than the ballot postage is expected to cost.
There are other things to consider, however.
The state expects to take in record revenues, up more than $2 billion since the last budget was prepared in 2017. Even so, there are likely to be budget cuts in such areas as public safety, criminal justice and human services. Each of those areas is, arguably, as vital to the well being of Oregonians as K-12 education and the Oregon Health Plan, both of which are expected to get more money.
The lack of money in programs that protect the youngest Oregonians has been a contributing factor in ongoing abuse and even deaths in the foster care system. A 2018 performance audit by the Secretary Of State’s Office found too few foster homes, too little state oversight and a need for some 800 more full-time caseworkers to correct the situation. The 2018 Legislature did up the Department of Human Services budget, but by nowhere near enough to make serious inroads in those shortages.
True, the money that would be spent on ballot postage won’t fill the DHS gap. But it will help, if even just a little. It could mean additional caseworkers, or the money to make being foster parents a reality for a few more Oregonians. And that could mean fewer cases of abuse, even death, for children whose plight is not of their own making.
Lawmakers need to get their priorities straight on this one. Voters who cannot afford to mail their ballots can take them to a drop center or the county clerk’s office. Money for ballot stamps must be set aside and the money redirected to programs that involve people’s lives.