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Is Oregon's Democrat Secretary of State Trying to Suppress the Republican Vote?

A local media firestorm erupted on Friday in the wake of an attempt by the Oregon Republican Party (ORP) to do its job. In an election season that has been marked by multiple accusations that the election is rigged, appointed (not elected) Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins (D-Salem) has actively engaged in voter suppression by characterizing a robocall effort as a "scam" and imploring Republican voters to ignore it.

The controversy erupted over a robocall campaign undertaken by the ORP to reactivate Republican voters who had gone inactive. Under Oregon's vote-by-mail only system, a voter can become inactive if the county elections office receives information that the voter's information has changed. From the Secretary of State's website,

What does it mean if my registration is inactive?

You are registered, but your county received evidence that information on our registration may have changed. You will not receive a ballot unless you provide your county with updated registration information to change your registration status to active.

How can my status change to inactive?

An active voter can become inactive due to:

  • An undeliverable ballot or other election mail
  • A challenged ballot
  • No voting or registration activity in 5 years
  • Incarcerated due to a felony conviction

Using the list of registered Republican inactive voters which they obtained from the secretary of State, the ORP engaged in an effort to reach out to these voters to remind them to vote.

For this, the Democratic Party of Oregon, the secretary of State, and the media exploded in apoplexy.

The Eugene Register-Guard reported that "the calls were characterized Friday morning as 'voter suppression activity' by Atkins, with election officials unable to determine who was behind them. Atkins called on the Oregon Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate them."

Several media outlets appear to be assisting in scrubbing the statement by the secretary of State to ignore the robocalls. Multiple local news channels showed the video of her statement to the press in their 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock news on Friday, but in each case, their websites conveniently now have no video to link, and the online story appears to be significantly altered.

The Democratic Party of Oregon (DPO) apparently got its talking points aligned, missing no opportunity to clutch its pearls in horror. They released a statement that says, in part:

The Oregon Republican Party’s misleading robo calls [sic], if not highly illegal, are grossly reckless and irresponsible, and we demand immediate action.

Because of these facts, the extreme importance of protecting voter rights, and the short four days to remedy this matter, we demand that the Oregon Republican Party stop making these robo calls [sic] and release the list of voters targeted with calls to the Oregon Secretary of State, the Oregon Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate for possible illegal acts, including voter suppression, and to determine a timely remedy for this troubling effort.

In the midst of this situation, it is morally reprehensible that the Oregon Republican Party Chairman—in a Donald Trump-style press statement released in the middle of night – would attack our Secretary of State with claims that she is suppressing voters. The Secretary of State is doing her job and protecting the rights of Oregonians. It is the Oregon Republican Party suppressing the rights of voters, and their late night attack draws their actions into further doubt.

The statement that the DPO referenced from Bill Currier, chair of the ORP (released in the face of late local news reporting), was pretty clear:

In a press release earlier tonight, we published the entire script of the call and it bears no resemblance to the descriptions being issued by the Secretary of State. The Oregon Republican Party message never said anything stating that anyone's vote won't count ... It only encouraged registered Republican voters that had not yet received a ballot to get one and told them how. That is the opposite of voter suppression.

We are deeply concerned that the Secretary is actively discouraging Registered Republicans who happen to be of inactive status from obtaining a ballot ... Her job is exactly the opposite - which is to help these voters in any way possible.

Later in the statement, Currier went on to issue a warning to county clerks:

We also want to put County Elections Offices on notice to fully comply with Oregon Law that gives inactive voters the right to update their registration and get a ballot. We’ve seen media reports in which County Elections Officials have complained about voters contacting them seeking assistance and have portrayed the State Party’s effort to help inactive Republican voters to get a ballot as being “bogus” and “illegal.” It is no secret that it is a busy season for election offices, but the rights of voters come first and must be upheld.

So, to review. the Oregon Republican Party is attempting to reactivate its base voters whose ballots may have gone inactive. In response, the Democratic Party of Oregon accuses the ORP of late-night scheming to suppress votes in a stretch of logic that would make Gumby proud. The media seizes on a controversy with little notice or time to investigate, in time for the 10 p.m. local news, which conveniently helps their friends in the party that has exclusively ruled Oregon for 30 years. And the partisan-appointed secretary of State, who has never held elective office in her life and who is a career Democrat operative, makes public a statement accusing the ORP of voter suppression while simultaneously telling all Oregon voters to ignore these calls—engaging herself in voter suppression. She then asks the equally partisan Oregon Department of Justice and federal officials to launch a full-scale investigation.

***

Jeff Reynolds is a member of the Oregon Republican Party Executive Committee.