Oregon Democrats are returning election ballots at a much higher rate than Republicans and other voters, according to report Tuesday by the state Elections Division.
Out of over 66,000 ballots returned as of Tuesday, more than half came from Democrats, even though they are one-third of Oregon’s 2.7 million registered voters.
Democrats say their high turnout so far shows the party is energized to keep the governor’s office, strengthen its hold on the Oregon House and Senate and help take back the U.S. House and Senate.
“Many voters are telling us that this is the most important election in their lifetime,” wrote Molly Woon, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Oregon, in a message to Oregon Capital Bureau. “Oregonians see the destructive policies of the GOP and Trump, and they are ready to take their country back.”
Kevin Hoar, spokesman for the Oregon GOP, said the Democratic “union machine usually pushes its activists to vote early.”
“Saying that GOP voters aren’t turning out for Knute or that GOP voters in Oregon are somehow less enthusiastic in general lacks data to back it up,” Hoar said, “and is certainly too early to form such conclusions.
About one-third of Republican voters have so far returned their ballots. Republicans make up 26 percent of the state’s electorate.
Jordan Conger, policy director for the campaign of state Rep. Knute Buehler, GOP candidate for governor, said it’s too early to determine how the turnout so far would affect the governor’s race.
“There are not enough ballots to make an interpretation,” Conger said. “Besides, our voters traditionally hold onto their ballots longer.”
He said the campaign is “seeing is that voters want change – regardless of party, ideology or geography.”
Meanwhile, nonaffiliated voters – who make up 32 percent of registered voters – have returned only about 15 percent of all ballots reported so far. They could be the wild card in state elections this year.
The 66,143 ballots counted as of Tuesday represent a 2.4 percent of all registered voters.
Polls show the race between Democratic incumbent Gov. Kate Brown and Buehler is close.
To win, Buehler has to attract voters from outside his party. He has campaigned on a moderate platform to preserve Oregon’s unrestrictive abortion laws and protect the environment but also has said he supports repealing the state’s sanctuary law. The sanctuary law prohibits law enforcement and state agencies from enforcing federal immigration law.
“When the Republican in the race is trying to play both sides on health care, abortion and the environment, it turns out Republican voters aren’t that thrilled to cast a ballot for him,” said Christian Gaston, Brown’s campaign spokesman.
Ballots were mailed beginning Oct. 17. Voters have until 8 p.m. Nov. 6 to drop off their ballots at designated locations.
Paris Achen: [email protected] or 503-363-0888. Achen is a reporter for the Portland Tribune working for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, the Pamplin Media Group and Salem Reporter.