Mail-In Voting Complicates Oregon Picture

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama's 75,000-person rally in Portland on Sunday was one of the largest events of his campaign and among the largest political gatherings in the country's recent history. But the electoral boost he will get from the rally -- and news coverage of it -- may be less than one might expect, because tens of thousands of Oregonians had already mailed in their votes.

Oregon is the only state to have adopted 100 percent vote-by-mail balloting, a system that comes with several potential ramifications for a primary that may help determine how much longer Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton battles on.

Many voters returned their ballots soon after they were sent out on May 1, meaning that they were unaffected by the final weeks of campaigning, in which Obama spent much more time in the state than Clinton did.

There is also the question of exit polls, which have loomed large as candidates have sought not only to win elections but also to prove their strength with key groups of voters. A polling firm will be calling voters to try to get the same demographic and opinion data that it gets from voters who leave precincts in other states, but it remains to be seen how much weight the results will be given.

Finally, there is the matter of potential glitches. One has already arisen. Tens of thousands of Oregonians switched their registration from Republican or unaffiliated so they could vote in the Democratic primary. But many switched so close to the April 29 deadline that election officials had already prepared ballots to send to them under their previous registrations. Pulling out those ballots would have been too arduous for most counties, so 33,500 voters received ballots for both parties.

State officials insist this won't be a problem. The scanners that will be used to count the ballots -- all counting is done on the day of the election-- are designed to only count the ballots that are in accord with the voter's new registration status. Another concern is that some voters may have been confused and used the wrong ballot, or none at all.

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