Oregon's double problem needs second look

The 2008 presidential election campaign has struck a nerve, jolting much of the American public out of its political dormancy. An unpredictable Republican, a woman and an African-American man stand at the doorway of the most powerful office in the world &

and suddenly it all seems much more interesting.

For the Secretary of State's office and county clerks in Oregon, it has been almost too much of a good thing. The state mailed out a record 2.2 million ballots last week, including 65,000 to first-time Oregon voters, many of them young. More than 70,000 Oregonians changed their party affiliation.

That's all good. But it does come with some complications, especially related to those who changed parties. Secretary of State Bill Bradbury noted last week that voters who changed their registrations in the two weeks before the ballots were mailed out may get two ballots in the mail because clerks must start the mailing process long before the final deadline for registering.

Not to fear, Bradbury said, no one will get two votes. If a voter sends in the ballot for his or her former party, it would be kicked out of the normal counting process. The voter would be the bigger loser, since any vote cast in a partisan race would not count. Votes cast for non-partisan positions and ballot measures still would be counted.

Anyone who changed party registration late in the game should double-check the ballot to make sure to use the right one. If you get two ballots, either destroy or set aside the incorrect ballot. (Don't toss it whole into the garbage, because someone could potentially find it and send it in.) If you send in only the correct ballot there should be no problems.

But the state does have a problem that it should address. It doesn't seem to us that it would be too difficult to set up a system to weed out the double ballots in future elections to reduce the likelihood of confusion and lost voting opportunities.

Bradbury said the problem facing ballot handlers is that while the ballots are originally turned out in alphabetical order, they are quickly divided up into ZIP codes and then into postal routes. Tracking down individual ballots would be extremely time-consuming, he said.

It's probably more difficult than we realize, but from here it seems that if Sally Smith in ZIP 97520, postal route 4, changed her party affiliation, it wouldn't be a huge process to track down her ballot and switch it for the updated version.

We hope Oregon continues to have this kind of interest in elections to come. We also hope the Secretary of State's office will take action now that demonstrates it recognizes the problem with duplicate ballots.

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