Around Oregon, Local government

Malheur County avoids ballot delays plaguing other parts of Oregon

Amid concerns that some post offices were holding onto ballots, state elections officials met Thursday, May 16, with representatives of the United States Postal Service. 

Gayle Trotter, Malheur County Clerk, said she was made aware that ballots were being held at some locations. On a conference call with the postal service and other county clerks, the U.S. Postal Service assured them the issue would be handled within the next day. 

According to Laura Kerns, the communications director with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, a 2019 state law that guarantees Oregon – not the public ­– pays the postage fees is at the heart of the problem.

Kerns said that some offices were holding onto ballots while they determined how much to bill the state. Under the law, every voter receives a return envelope for their ballot with pre-paid postage.

“It has happened in the past that USPS has given conflicting guidance to some post offices on how to process the business reply mail ballots,” Kerns said. 

The issue bubbled up Wednesday, May 15, in a press release from House Minority Leader Jeff Helfrich, R-Hood River.

“The USPS told county elections officials Wednesday that the ballots were being held because the USPS wanted a firm count on how much to bill for each ballot,” the press release said. 

Helfrich dubbed the 2019 legislation a “Democrat-passed law designed to “extend routine ballot acceptance beyond Election Day.” In fact, Senate Bill 861 had bipartisan support. 

Trotter said there had not been any issues in Malheur County with ballots being delayed in getting back to her office. She said Helfrich “jumped the gun” in his press release about the extent of the problem in Oregon. 

While the Secretary of State’s Office did not comment on the scope of the delays, it did allude to being ” in communication” with the U.S. Postal Service to help it understand the “implications” of its decisions to downsize in Oregon.  

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