Signature problems were the top reason ballots in the state’s vote-by-mail system got tossed out in the 2010 mid-term election, according to data from Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown’s office. County clerks in 30 Oregon counties — six didn’t report data — rejected nearly 5,000 ballots in that election because signatures on the envelopes did not match the signatures on file, and more than 3,200 ballots were discarded because they lacked any signature. Approximately 1,900 ballots arrived too late to be counted. The counties that did not report the numbers of ballots they rejected in the 2010 mid-term election were Curry, Grant, Lincoln, Malheur, Tillamook and Wheeler counties. The number of rejected ballots translates to a tiny fraction of the total ballots cast. Less than 1 percent of the 1.4 million ballots cast were rejected in the 2010 mid-term, and similar percentages in other recent elections. Nonetheless, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office and an expert on early voting said there are ways that Oregon could improve.
“I think any time a ballot is not counted, that there is something that needs to be worked on,” said Tony Green, a spokesman for Brown. “Even though these are very small percentages, these are still voters who wanted to cast a ballot and we should look for ways to make sure as many votes as possible are counted.”
Green said lawmakers did just that earlier this year, passing a bill to increase the amount of time voters have clear up signature problems with the local county clerk’s office. Under the new law, voters must resolve any signature issues by no later than 14 days after the election, according to the Secretary of State’s manual.
In addition to discrepancies in handwriting and ballots without signatures, another common problem is that people who live in the same household will accidentally sign each other’s ballots.
Oregon has more experience with mail-in ballots than much of the nation. The state created a pilot program in 1981 to allow the practice for local elections, and voters approved a statewide vote-by-mail system in 1998.