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E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Love me two times

Yesterday's discussion of the duplicate primary election ballots I have received from the Multnomah County Elections folks merits some elaboration.

First, let's talk again about the situation with Ben Westlund, independent candidate for governor. Some readers don't have this right -- and given the weirdness of a recently adopted state law, I don't blame them, as it's hard to believe. As explained by both the Westlund campaign and the Oregon Secretary of State's office, if you turn in a major party ballot in the primary -- either Democratic or Republican -- any signature you place on a petition for Westlund won't count. Your primary vote will still count, but your signature won't.

An important hitch comes in the fact that if you're a member of either of the two major parties, both your partisan primary races and all the nonpartisan races (such as judges, Portland City Council, and Multnomah County commissioner and chair) are all on one and the same ballot. And if you return that major party ballot, you're disqualified from signing for Westlund even if you vote only in nonpartisan races. Despite some confusion on the part of commenters on yesterday's blog post, that much is fairly clear. Unless and until the recent state law is changed (can't happen this year), reinterpreted (which I doubt will happen), or declared unconstitutional (which could take years), that's the way it is.

Here is the Democratic Party ballot, and here is the nonpartisan ballot. As you can see, the nonpartisan races are included on the Democratic ballot; if you are a registered Democrat, and you send back that ballot, your signature on a Westlund petition is toast. (For some further discussion, see pages 21 and 22 of this official Secretary of State handout.)

The questions raised by duplicate ballots are not so easily answered, but a few points have come into focus. A reader who's in the know (county elections director John Kauffman) writes in on this subject:

When voters change party close to the cutoff, we cannot avoid sending two ballots because we have to prepare the first mailing a couple of weeks prior to the voter registration cutoff. However, when the new party change is made, the first ballot is voided in our system. We will only accept the ballot with the latest change (not the first ballot we receive if the voter sends in both.) We do not turn in double voters to an auditor, they go to the Secretary of State and the Attorney General investigates.

We do check registrations with DMV, however, voters often transpose numbers and we do make data entry errors. The beauty of vote by mail, to me, is that we have time to solve problems before election day.

An alert reader, Jenni Simonis, adds some additional useful information, which can be illustrated by the outer return envelope that came with each ballot I got -- one Democratic and one nonpartisan:

Simonis writes:

When ballots come in, the barcode on them is scanned. This barcode is unique to every ballot. If you were to send in the partisan ballot, the computer pops up and says this is an inactive ballot. The moment your registration was changed, the first ballot printed was inactivated and is ineligible for voting.

The ballots are sorted by precinct and put into "batches." These batches allow a person checking signatures to put in the batch number and bring up all the signatures in that box.

* * * * *

I encourage you to sign up to go into the elections office and watch how everything is done. It's a very interesting process, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to work in the Multnomah County Elections Office in 2004. It gave me a whole new view of the election process. I'd worked elections in Texas, but that was on-site voting in your precinct. It was nothing like working in the elections office here.

Makes sense.

And so, to sum up:

1. If you are registered as a major party member, and you return your partisan ballot, or even an empty major party ballot envelope, any signature you make for Westlund will not count. And if you're a major party member, the Secretary of State considers your ballot a major party ballot, period. Even if you vote only in nonpartisan races.

2. If you recently changed from a major party to independent, got two ballots, and vote the independent one, there is a way for the county to see that you voted nonpartisan, not partisan. Let's hope that means that your Westlund signature will count.

3. If you recently changed from a major party to independent, got two ballots, and vote the partisan one, or even just use the envelope that came with the partisan one, you're just wasting a stamp, because your ballot won't be counted.

This post was updated this afternoon, after I got the comments from Kauffman and Simonis.

Comments (20)

Thanks for clarifying this very complicated issue (at least for those of us who changed party registration recently).

So how is this info going to get out to those voters who don't read Bojack?

I would bet there will be many who get two ballots, will get confused, (or change their minds) and try and vote the invalided partisan ballot, and then have no vote at all counted.

Of course, those intentially gaming the system by voting twice, will get both invalidated, as it should be.

If you changed recently, and got two ballots, you can return the partisan ballot and get it counted as long as you return it in the non-partisan envelope. Then your Westlund signature would still count.

It isn't the ballot that determines how you voted, it is the return envelope.

At least that is how I understand things from what Kauffman told me in reply to my emails. (They track the outer return envelopes, not the actual ballot.)

BTW: I'm not saying that anybody should do that, it's wrong. I was just pointing out a flaw in the system, and making sure people understand that the most important part is using the correct return envelope if they got more than one.

Vote by mail is a clusterf**k, as we used to say in 'Nam.

If you really want to have some fun, examine the whole signature verification apparatus, where some nameless county employee compares the signature on the envelope containing your ballot, and the signature on record, and what happens if in his/her sole discretion he/she decides that the signatures don't look sufficiently alike. My understanding is that what happens is that he/she will unilaterally and summarily reject your ballot. Meanwhile, you the citizen voter goes on through life fat dumb and happy, believing that you've done your civic duty and that your vote has been counted,because they never tell you that they rejected it.

Tell me how any of that could happen in the good old vote-in-person at your local polling place system.

Jack: Thanks for the clarifying post. Hopefully I won't have to harp on it in the comments any more. I'm sure that'd be a relief to more than just me. :-)

Rusty: "Tell me how any of that could happen in the good old vote-in-person at your local polling place system."

It probably couldn't. On the other hand, voter turnout went up by quite a lot when vote-by-mail was adopted, so the net effect is that more citizens' voices are being heard. One step back, ten steps forward.

Rejection reports to the voter would be a good idea, though. Hopefully Mr. Kauffman is still reading.

When a signature appears to not match, it is flagged with a note (looks different, is the wrong name-- people in the same house sometimes get their envelopes switched, signature missing, etc.).

Those are then checked by supervisors, often times by more than one.

As far as I know, you do indeed get a notice when something is wrong with your signature.

If it doesn't appear to match, you get a letter asking you to come into the elections office. I dealt with several of these coming to the office in 2004. Often times it was just that the signature on file was from years ago and the signature had changed. Or sometimes the person had broken their hand/arm and was having to use the other one.

If you forget to sign, you get a letter stating your ballot wasn't counted because it wasn't signed. This happened to my husband in the last minor election we had.

I'm not sure what the letter says for those that are just completely wrong (husband's signature on wife's envelope, wife's on husband's envelope), as I didn't see those letters.

Also, I can tell you from experience that plenty of people call or come into the office when they have a problem such as duplicate ballots. Because of the unique barcode, an employee at the office can help you to identify the correct ballot and outer envelope.


In 2004 over 365,000 votes were cast in Multnomah County, and, IIRC, the largest bulk of them come flooding in on election day. And I'm guessing that there's a large number of ballots with signatures looking different than the often years-old one of record. So in the context of all that, and it being election night and evereyone under pressure, scurrying around to get votes counted, I'm having a little problem wrapping my mind around the idea of all those ballots being "checked by supervisors, often times by more than one." Unless they have hundreds of supervisors down there on Morrison Street on election night.

And if you do vote on election day, and if they then do send you a letter telling you that there's a problem with your signature, and it's days after election day before you get that letter, does the vote count if you bring in proof?

What happens if I sign for Westlund and vote in the primary, but am registered with a non-major party, such as the Pacific Green Party?


I should not have said "vote in the primary," but rather, what happens if I vote in the non-partisan elections in May?

Eric: There was a comment on this by Dan Meek in an earlier thread. The key question is whether you participated in a partisan primary. If your party doesn't have a primary, I think you're o.k. Meek said:

[Y]ou need not register as "unaffiliated" in order to sign a petition for Ben Westlund or any other independent candidate. You can register as Pacific Green or Liberterian or Freedom Socialist, etc., and still validly sign such a petition, as long as you do not attend the party's nominating convention(s) and actually participate in the nomination for the office at issue. Registering with a minor party gets you a primary ballot with all of the nonpartisan races, ballot measures, etc.


If you are registered to a "minor" party (e.g. Pac Greens) you can sign Westlund's petition and vote in the long as you didn't sign the roll of electors at the Green's nominating convention or sign the minutes of the convention. Though, Dan Meek could clarify that better than I can.

Post #2 (Michael) has the identical thought that popped in my head while reading through this.

Plus, the statement "when ballots come in, the barcode on them is scanned. This barcode is unique to every ballot" is not true.

The barcode is unique to every ENVELOPE. Ain't no code on the ballot itself.

G'ahead, go get your ballot AND envelope. You'll see the difference.

It should say: "When envelopes come in, the barcode on them is scanned. This barcode is unique to every envelope. If you were to send in the partisan envelope, the computer pops up and says this is an inactive envelope."

You are correct, sir or madam.

Eric: JTT is correct, so far as I can tell.

The one caveat is that, if you did participate in both the Green and Westlund nomination processes, it appears to me as if both signatures would be disqualified. Since the "major" parties are unaffected by this double-disqualification, that seems like an Equal Protection problem to me.

(Once again, I'd love to be wrong... maybe an official reading this could correct me?)

The Westlund camp sent my sheet back because I took up more than one line. The sheet has 10 tiny narrow lines. Chilling. They should have a 1 or 2 FAT line sheet. I'd hate to see the SoS dump nine signatures because one line might be bad, you know, like with Nader. Or have the SoS try to factor my sheet into some statistical garbage formula and thus deny the full counting of other signors that are not sampled. When the sole signor and circulator are one in the same who cares if I write like it is with a Crayon.

I have my two sets of ballots. I think I'll cram both in the same envelope and say you pick which to count. At least I know which envelope to use.

got logic--

When I talked about ballots, I meant it the sense of the entire packaged ballot that you send/bring in-- I didn't mean the actual ballot inside.

So just in case anyone got confused...

The barcode is on your outer envelope that you place the secrecy envelope and your ballot inside. This is unique to every ballot that goes out. If you need a new ballot for whatever reason (mistake; accidentally destroyed-- coffee, ripped, etc; didn't come; moved; etc.), a new outer envelope is printed with a new barcode.

This is why you can't go in and just get a replacement ballot-- you need a new barcode assigned to you as the old one will be invalidated.


Yes, every one of the signatures that is flagged is indeed checked. When I was checking signatures, I may only flag a handful in the entire box. It's definitely not so many that the supervisors who work there can't handle them in a reasonable amount of time.

The verifying of signatures isn't necessarily over on election night. That's why the tally is often not "final" until some days after the election (it may say something like 99.9% of precincts counted).

In the letter people receive, they have until a set date to come into the office to get their signature verified. I don't recall what the cut-off date is, but the elections office could tell you.

By design let's say you get 500 people to actively swap parties last minute, thus getting 2 envelopes in the mail, figure out which envelope is now "valid" by calling Mult Cty, then send THAT valid envelope in with the "other" ballot that you secretly want counted all along.

Done, boom, the system's been gamed. Who'd want to do this? Dunno. For what reason? Dunno again. It's just the fact that it's a flaw in the system that bugs me.

Remember the Washington guv? 300 votes either way makes it a D or an R.

This wasn't Bojack's intent, but that's what he faces through no fault of his own. he switched parties last minute with honest intentions and motivations, and wallah he's got 2 envelopes mailed to him as a result (one valid, one unvalid) but ALSO 2 ballots (one Democratic and one Independent).

By later explanations/posters we now know the reasons now why this occured (mailing volume, last minute printing, yada yada, all legitimate I suppose, can't pull the "last minute-ers") but once he figures out which ENVELOPE is the valid one (by contacting Multnomah County Elections), what is stopping him from inserting the actual ballot (Democratic or Independent) that he wants? Into the "valid" and thus acceptable ... envelope?

Please, anybody, begging here for a Mult Cty whiz to show us how/why this trick can't be executed purposefully by individuals or group of Grinches.
My aging pea brain tells me (given the info above) how it can be.

The simple solution is not to sign Westlund's petition. He seems not to have met a tax he didn't like, so there's no way in Yuma I'll ever sign his petition.

Got logic: It's easy. Make the parties run their own nomination processes, entirely separate from the spring elections. Why should independent and minor party voters footing the bill for the major parties' internal decisions?

Hinkley: The problem is larger than just Westlund's candidacy. People use his name partly because he's the most visible current example of a nomination petition this idiotic law is hindering. I also happen to be a fan of his, but that's not why I'm mad about this law.


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