Oregonians are taking their time returning their ballots for the November 8 election. As of 10 a.m. Monday, only 36 percent of registered voters who were mailed ballots for the general election have returned them, according to numbers published by the state elections division. The average number of total returned ballots by this same day over the past five midterm elections is 50 percent.
Voters in the state’s most populous county—Multnomah—are lagging even further behind, with just a 32 percent return rate.
It could be that Oregon voters are showing a bit of political apathy in these midterms. It could be that many are simply taking advantage of the new-in-2022 rule allowing them to mail their ballot up until Election Day.
“People sometimes call it the ‘Damian Lillard’ rule,” says Ben Morris, communications director for Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, the state official who oversees elections.
Morris explains it like this: Imagine a basketball leaving the hand of Portland Trail Blazers all-star point guard Damian Lillard just before the clock rolls over to zero. The bucket still counts even though the clock expired.
The same goes for those who send their buzzer-beater ballots in on Election Day. As long as a ballot is postmarked no later than November 8, the vote still counts. (Before the new law took effect this year, mailed ballots had to be received at the elections office before 8 p.m. on Election Day—now ballots with a postmark on or before Election Day still count, even if they aren't received until a few days later.)
Voting feels just like magic. Cast your ballot by Nov 8th:— Secretary of State Shemia Fagan | #VoteReady 📬🗳 (@OregonSOS) November 6, 2022
✅ Mail it. Make sure your ballot is collected by USPS and postmarked by Nov 8th.
✅ Use an official drop site. https://t.co/GkJAjyyPOh #orpol pic.twitter.com/DyD1PDA67e
Morris says that, due to the new rule, it’s hard to compare whether turnout will match pace with previous midterm elections. The past 10 midterm cycles average a turnout of approximately 69 percent, with 59 percent in 1998 being the lowest in the past three decades.
According to Morris, around 5 percent of the vote in the May 2022 primary came in ballots postmarked on Election Day, the first election in which the new rule applied.
Midterm elections do generally see a lower turnout than those featuring a presidential race, Oregon’s sluggish start, particularly in Multnomah County, but it is surprising considering the number of important races and questions on the ballot this fall.
That includes a competitive gubernatorial race for the first time in nearly 30 years, ballot measures on health care, guns, and political accountability, as well as county and local measures on voting and governance.
While plenty of ballots are expected to make their way to their respective elections offices to be counted over the next 24 to 48 hours—an average of about 28 percent of ballots come in on the last two days—it’s unclear if the state will keep up with previous years.
“It’s hard to say,” Morris says. “We’re just going to take it slow and see how it goes. We’re not in the business of predicting turnout.”
The previous two midterm elections saw 68 percent (2018) and 71 percent (2014) turnout.
Despite seemingly low intrigue, there is still time if you’re one of the many who still have their ballot sitting on the kitchen table. Visit the Oregon Secretary of State’s website for more information or to find a ballot drop box in your area.