The primary in Oregon on Tuesday saw several problems that left Republican voters scratching their heads. In Oregon’s vote-by-mail-only system, voters receive ballots in the mail that are customized to the party to which they belong. In this year’s primary, however, widespread reports have emerged that many Republican voters received ballots indicating no party preference — meaning that they were unable to vote in the primary for contested elections to nominate a Republican governor and legislative candidates. By the time many voters noticed the problem, it was too late to receive a corrected ballot.
Social media posts began popping up as Tuesday’s election drew near. As more and more reports poured in, it became clear that it was more than an unverifiable fringe claim of voter fraud. Now, nationally syndicated talk show host Lars Larson and the Oregon Republican Party are sounding the alarm.
The error stems from Oregon’s 2016 “motor voter” law, enacted by the Democratic majority in the legislature and implemented by Democratic interim Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins (now the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Oregon). The legislature passed the nation’s first automatic voter registration system that registered everyone in the DMV database, as well as those who applied for hunting licenses, fishing licenses, or had other similar interactions with state agencies. At the time, public outcry about a citizen being registered to vote against his or her wishes was met with silence.
Larson, who hosts a local show from Portland as well as his nationally syndicated show, posted this on his Facebook page:
Well, it’s election day but a lot of Oregonians are finding out that they’ve been cheated out a vote in the primary election due to changes in the state voter registration system. Here’s what happened: Democrats decided to automatically register everyone who gets a driver’s license as a voter. Okay so far. Only the same rocket scientists in Salem who blew 300-million bucks on a failed health insurance website put a twist in the system. Let’s say you’ve been a registered republican voter for 30 years. You renew your driver’s license. Now, updating your driver’s license shouldn’t have any affect on your existing voter registration, should it? Well, the Oregon system automatically RE-Registers you as a new and unaffiliated voter…meaning you’re not a republican anymore. Then they send you a card in the U.S. Mail. If you don’t fill it out and pick a party you’re not a Republican anymore. It only matters in a primary election where without a party you don’t get a choice in races like Governor and Senator. Lots of folks are emailing and facebooking me…telling me they didn’t get a full ballot. And even though the flaw is the fault of the state…they’ll tell you there’s no way to fix it now. Gee, a system invented by Democrats that leaves Republicans out of a vote. Who’da thunk it? By the way, I’d like to gather as many examples of this kind of thing as I can, so if it happened to you, email me…[email protected]
In an interview with PJ Media, Chris Barreto, the vice chair of the Oregon Republican Party (ORP), said that she’s heard dozens of complaints from across the state. Barreto put out an email and statement on the ORP Facebook page asking for voters to submit their own examples:
The ORP has received a number of complaints of constituents not receiving their Republican ballots for this year’s primary election. They have instead received a NAV (non- affiliated ballot).
Those that I received personally and have checked on seem to have a registration date changes in 2016. This was before [Republican] Dennis Richardson was sworn in as Secretary of State [in 2017].
These appear to be changes possibly made through the “Motor Voter” when someone does either an address change, renews their driver license, or purchases a hunting or fishing license, etc. This is not isolated to a single county and there is no reason to believe this is coming from county clerks.
Calls to the Democratic Party of Oregon were not returned in time for comment on this story. Anecdotally, I reached out to the former county Democratic chair with whom I’ve maintained cordial relations, and she said that she hadn’t heard of anything like this from Democratic primary voters.
A plausible explanation for how this could have happened goes like this: A Republican voter updated his or her driver’s license at the DMV (or applied for a fishing or hunting license) sometime between 2016 and three weeks before May 15, the legal cutoff in Oregon to change your registration in time for the primary. That voter could easily have missed the box on the form saying they could opt out of automatic registration. The secretary of state sends that newly registered voter a postcard explaining they recently registered to vote and instructing them to fill out a form and mail it back if they’d like to opt out. However, if a lifelong resident registered to a political party for a lengthy period of time received such a card, they could easily have considered this irrelevant, assuming that their original registration still held.
What makes this so problematic is that early reports weigh heavily, if not exclusively, toward disenfranchising Republican voters. In a contested gubernatorial primary in a state where Republicans already face a significant registration disadvantage, and with turnout in this year’s primary at lows not seen since at least 1964, Republicans in the Beaver State face an unprecedented wave of discouragement that their vote won’t count.
Jeff Reynolds is the author of the forthcoming book, Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy, due out Fall 2018. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @ChargerJeff.