A stack of counted and signed ballot envelopes at the Marion County Elections Office on Tuesday, May 19. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Lately, Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess gets heartburn thinking about voters who wait until the week before Election Day to vote.
He’s worried about making sure their ballots will be counted after 10 drop box sites around the county closed during the last election due to Covid restrictions in buildings like city halls or libraries.
On Monday, Marion County commissioners denied his request for $47,500 to site 10 new outdoor boxes around the county, arguing that city halls in towns across the county should open their doors to allow people to drop off their ballots come October.
Burgess said the ballot box closures mostly impact the eastern part of the county in cities like Stayton and Jefferson.
“It means that they’re going to have to drive a little bit further to find a ballot drop site,” he said.
Burgess has concerns about voters who drive up to a drop site only to find it closed and forgo voting altogether.
The worry about ballot boxes locally comes as concerns flare nationwide about how the United States Postal Service will handle an influx of mail-in ballots this coming election. President Donald Trump has said he intended to prevent the expansion of voting by mail.
Oregon has used a mail-in voting system for the last two decades and Burgess said the county’s timeline for distributing ballots makes him feel timely returns won’t be an issue in the state.
“We know it works no matter what some people may say. We know it works, we know it’s secure and we know it’s easier more convenient for the voter. We know that it brings a higher turnout,” he said.
But he said his phone is still ringing off the hook with residents concerned about their vote being counted and ballot drop boxes being closed.
Burgess was hoping to use federal CARES Act funding to help pay for the boxes, but with time running out he wants to find another way to fund them.
When ballots go out, voters can track them online and find out if they’ve been received and counted.
WEBSITE LINK: Track your ballot
Burgess said the elections office won’t post a list of drop box sites until a month before the election and those sites could change in the coming months.
In the May primary election, postage was paid for by the state and 54% of Marion County voters mailed their ballots in. In the last presidential election, the number of people who voted by mail was much lower – 34%.
“It certainly does appear that maybe the combination of paid postage and Covid really drove people to mail (in ballots),” he said.
In May, about 500 ballots were turned in too late in Marion County, 245 of which were postmarked on time, Burgess said. Oregon doesn’t count postmarks - ballots must be received by Election Day to count.
In the November election, Burgess said he’s expecting close to 600 ballots that will be postmarked on time but won’t count toward the election.
He said about a third of people vote on the last two days of the election because they may be waiting to see what candidates say or do up until Election Day. It’s unreasonable to expect voters to turn in ballots early, he said.
Ballots will be sent out on Oct. 14 and if voters don’t mail them by Oct. 27, they need to be turned into a drop box site. Voters can also visit the Marion County Courthouse on Nov. 2 or 3 to cast their vote.
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Have a story tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.