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Snail Mail and Closed Primaries: the State of Voting in Oregon

Written By Crystal Contreras-Grossman | Apr 6, 2016

You may have noticed that it’s an election year, and while I have absolutely no interest in telling you who or what to vote for, I do care that you can navigate the voter registration process and are aware of the important dates this election season.

Fortunately, we live in a state where you can register online, vote by mail, and check the status of your voter registration on the MyVote portal, so I’m going to let you know how to do all that.

Oregon is only one of three states, including Washington and Colorado, that have vote-by-mail, and in 2000, Oregon became the first state to hold a presidential election entirely by mail.

The requirements

Alright, so first things first: in order to vote you have to be a U.S. citizen, an Oregon resident, and at least 17 years of age. If this is you, you can register in-person at the county elections office. You can also swing by the library or post office to pick up a voter registration card and submit it by mail.

This could change if Initiative Petition 51 makes it onto the ballot. If passed into law, it would require Oregon voters to show proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.

33 states already have voter identification laws in place for the 2016 election, and while proponents claim that these laws address fraud, they’ve been shown to disproportionately restrict voting access among immigrants, African Americans and the poor.

How to register

If you choose to register online, you’ll be asked for your first name, last name, date of birth, and an Oregon DMV number. Just remember that in order to apply for an Oregon Driver License, you will need a copy of your birth certificate.

Let’s pause there for a second, because I should mention that if you don’t have a copy of your birth certificate, getting your hands on one can be a hassle, depending on which state or country you were born in. Be sure to check with your state of birth’s Department of Public Health for instructions and fees.

It’s also important to note that as of January 1st, 2016, you now have the option to automatically register to vote (or to opt out if you wish!) when you apply for an Oregon Driver License or Identification Card.

Voters with disabilities

For those with disabilities, your local Oregon county elections office can assist you in the voting process. Election workers will come to you or your home with tablets and printers so you can cast a ballot. You can learn more about the program here.

Homeless and houseless voters

If you’re a homeless or houseless U.S. citizen, you still have the right to vote! Your address can be any definable location in the county of residence. Do you happen to live somewhere where access to mail service is difficult? If that’s the case, the address of the county clerk’s office is available for you to use as well.

Voter information is public

An important thing to keep in mind is that voter information is public record, so if for any reason you’re not okay with disclosing your address, you can request to register and vote in private on the Secretary of State website.

This may change if Initiative Petition 50, or the Voter Privacy Act, makes it onto the ballot and is voted into law. This would make it so voters could withhold their information, which includes, but is not limited to, emails addresses, date of birth, and phone numbers—so keep an eye out for that one.

Casting your ballot

Once you receive your ballot by mail, fill it out, and sign it (this is important!), you can either mail it back, which requires a stamp, or drop it off at any dropbox. There’s even a handy website where you can locate a ballot drop box in the state of Oregon. Remember that ballots must be received by 8pm on Election Day.

Important deadlines

Finally, let’s talk about deadlines. In order to vote in the November 2016 election, you will need to be registered by October 13, 2016. You can update your voter information until 8pm on Election Day and still be able to cast your ballot (I thought this was neat), although you may have to take care of this at the county elections office.

You will need to be registered by October 13, 2016.

What you certainly cannot do, however, is change your party registration status on the day of the election. The deadline in Oregon to register for a party’s primary is April 26th.

Oregon has closed primaries, meaning that you must be registered with a certain party in order to vote for their candidates in the primary elections. You will not be allowed to vote for a candidate in another party, so pick carefully.

You can always forgo the party affiliation, of course, and just vote in the general election. The choice is yours. Click here if you want to register as Republican, or here if you want to register as a Democrat.

Crystal Contreras-Grossman is a Ruby on Rails developer, journalist and a contributor to Noise & Color PDX.

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