Oregon Secretary of State visits PA to explain vote-by-mail

Steve Biddle // Published June 6, 2008 in Penn State Public Broadcasting Website
Bill Bradbury, Oregon's Secretary of State, was in Harrisburg last week to discuss his state's vote-by-mail system with Pennsylvania lawmakers.

In Oregon, residents get voter pamphlets in the mail, and return the completed ballot by mail or by placding it in a supervised drop box. The boxes are placed at libraries and other civic buildings. When the ballots are returned to the county elections office, every signature is checked before the vote is counted.

Bradbury claims, "We will have the cleanest, the most accurate voter registration rolls in the country in about another two years, because there's this constant cleansing, because of the returned ballots, that lead to inactive voter status."

The idea was generally well-received by the Pennsylvania legislators, although Democrat Robert Freeman of Northhampton County was worried about tradition "The one concern I have is the end of that civic ritual, going to a polling place, making a conscious effort to be there in line with your neighbors, casating your vote in a democratic style," Freeman said.

And Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes says giving more residents the option to vote early would require clearing several obstacles. "The review that the department has conducted so far, to expand voting by mail, would likely require, for sure changes to the Pennsylvania election code, possibly also an amendment to the constitution," he said.

State Government Committee Chair Babette Josephs, a Philadelphia Democrat, says she has a vision of a secure voting process with fewer barriers. Josephs says allowing residents to use an absentee ballot to vote early, might be one way to increase voter participation.

Currently, Pennsylvania allows some voter to mail in ballots, but absentee voters have to provide a valid reson, such as military service or illness.