Salem, here’s how to make your vote count on Election Day

Ballots are arriving in mailboxes for registered voters in Marion and Polk counties and it’s now up to their recipients to make sure they are returned complete and intact.

That doesn’t always happen.

“A lot of people just plain – they’ll lose their first ballot. We even have a picture in our breakroom where a dog did eat the ballot,” said Bill Burgess, Marion County clerk.

Whether it be a dog’s dinner or an unsigned envelope, elections officials have steps in place to make sure everyone’s vote can be counted.

Still, there are things voters can do to make election day easier for everyone involved.

As of this week, 284,807 people have registered to vote in Marion and Polk Counties, a 3% increase from the registration total in October 2020.

Non-affiliated voters have seen the greatest growth in that time, with 8,920 new voters in Marion County and 2,256 in Polk.

Both major parties saw decreases in registered voters since 2020, state and county elections data shows.

In Marion County, there are 1,403 fewer Republican registered voters and 1,520 fewer Democrats. Polk County lost 431 registered Republican voters and 264 Democrats.

Of the 222,256 people registered to vote in Marion County, 38% are non-affiliated, 28% are Democrats and 28% are Republicans as of Oct. 14.

In Polk County, of the 62,551 people registered to vote, 34% are Non-affiliated, 28% are Democrats and 31% are Republicans as of Oct. 19.

Registered voters should see ballots arriving in their mailboxes by the end of the week. After taking the time needed to make their decisions, elections officials say turning in ballots early can help avoid headaches if any issues come up.

Ballots can be returned through the mail or at official drop sites, which can be located on the Secretary of State’s website.

The deadline for submitting ballots is 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8. As of this year, mailed ballots will be counted if they are postmarked by that time and arrive within one week.

“I still wouldn’t wait until Election Day to put a ballot in the mailbox,” Burgess said.

For those mailing it in on Election Day, he recommended checking to make sure you haven’t already missed the pick up that day, or going into the post office to make sure it gets postmarked on time.

“We’re hoping, of course, that most people will get it in the ballot box early,” he said.

In 2020, he said many voters turned in ballots early due to concerns about pandemic-related delays. That election also stirred concerns about ballot security, which both Marion and Polk county clerks are still seeing the impact of.

“We still get records requests concerning the 2020 election today,” Burgess said. “There’s people that use – I call it the Mark Meadows playbook – and they ask for all sorts of things that, for the most part, don’t even make sense in Oregon.”

In Polk County, Election Clerk Cole Steckley said that he’s also seen an increase in requests since then, but that this fall’s election doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary so far.

In both counties, all ballots undergo security measures and verification to prevent election fraud.

Each ballot return envelope in Oregon is given a unique number and barcode to ensure that no one can vote twice by requesting a replacement ballot. The centralized system will also catch if someone has already voted in another county.

In the 2020 presidential election, 77 out of over 167,000 ballots in Marion County were rejected due to being duplicates.

Another major security step is matching the signature on the outside of the envelope to the one on file from the voter registration card or state driver’s license or ID card. It’s also the step that causes the most rejections.

“There were about 2,000 more that came to us (in 2020) that we weren’t able to count, and that was almost all signature issues,” Burgess said.

In Polk County, during the 2020 presidential election, 54 ballots were challenged due to missing signatures and 211 because the signatures did not match the one on file.

Election officials ask that voters sign the back of their envelope with care, and attempt to match what is on file. Sign it like it’s a check, not an iPad at a coffee shop register.

Those concerned about their signatures can update it themselves between now and election day by filling out a new voter’s registration card and turning it into the election’s office. Those are available in person, online at and are included in voters pamphlets.

“We try to get those signatures scanned in as quickly as possible,” Steckley said. “Obviously during an election we’re scanning in ballots and everything else so the earlier that you can do that (the better), if you need to.”

When signatures cannot be verified, officials will inform the voter and provide a registration card for them to update their ballots.

For ballots without signatures, officials will send a postcard to the voter with an affidavit they must sign within 21 days of Election Day.

“That’s why we cannot certify the election until at least 22 days after the election,” Burgess said. “And more likely by the time we do all the testing and everything, it’s going to be up to 27 days by the time that we actually know the results, and even then after that we do more audits, and hand checking and things like that.”

Voters can also sign up for My Vote to receive notifications about their ballot’s status.

Tips to be sure your vote counts, compiled by Salem Reporter

  1. Fill out your ballot in black or blue ink so it can easily be read by machine. Fill in the bubbles as instructed on the ballot, though election officials will attempt to honor your vote if your indicated vote is otherwise clear.
  2. Contact your county clerk’s office as soon as possible if you’ve lost your ballot or need a replacement.
  3. Place your ballot in the correct return envelope. Make sure the name on the ballot matches the name on the envelope. Don’t put two ballots in the same envelope.
  4. Sign your ballot return envelope on the back on the marked line. This line is the only signature that matters – any writing on the ballot itself or the secrecy sleeve won’t be used to verify your identity. Return envelopes come pre-addressed with postage paid, so once signed, your ballot is ready to send back.
  5. Mail your ballot back no later than election day, Nov. 8. If dropping in a mailbox, make sure to double check that you haven’t missed the pick up time that day.
  6. If using a drop box, get it in by 8 p.m. on election night.
  7. Sign up for MyVote to verify the status of your ballot. If your ballot shows up as “challenged” or an issue is listed, call the county clerk’s office in your county to learn what the issue is and how to fix it.
  8. If you get a piece of mail from the county elections office after the election, don’t ignore it! They’re likely trying to notify you about a signature issue. Send back the form, show up in-person or call if you’re not sure what you need to do.

Election details

Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 8. Ballots must be mailed or returned to a drop box or county election’s office by 8 p.m.

Voters with questions or who don’t receive a ballot should contact their county elections office. Marion County can be reached at (503) 588-5041 and Polk County at (503) 623-9217.

There are accessible ballots and voting methods available to people with disabilities in Oregon.

Accommodations include large print ballots, electronic ballots and a signature stamp for those who have difficulty signing their envelope.

To learn more about services for people with disabilities, visit or call 866-673-8683 or TTY 1-800-735-2900.

Salem drop sites

Ballots are counted if they’re returned to any drop box in Oregon, even if it’s not in the county the ballot originates in.

Hayesville Roth’s Fresh Markets, 4746 Portland Rd N.E. Salem OR 97305, inside during business hours

Marion County Health, 3180 Center St N.E. Salem OR 97301, 24 hours

Marion County Public Works, 5155 Silverton Rd N.E. Salem OR 97305, inside during business hours

Marion Courthouse Square Building & County Clerk’s Office, 555 Court St NE, Ste 2130, Salem OR 97301. Outside drive thru only open Election Day and Monday prior from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m; inside elections office during business hours

Sunnyslope Roth’s Fresh Markets, 4555 Liberty Rd S. Salem OR 97302, inside during business hours

Vista Roth’s Fresh Markets, 3045 Commercial St S.E. Salem OR 97302, inside during business hours

Walmart Park & Drop, 5250 Commercial Rd S.E. Salem OR 97306, Outside drive thru only open Election Day and Monday prior from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.

West Salem Roth’s Fresh Market, 1130 Wallace Rd N.W. Salem OR 97304, inside during business hours

Oregon Drop Box Locator

Polk County Drop Site Locations

Full list of Oregon Drop Sites

Marion County Elections Information

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.