Oregon pioneers all-postal vote

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The Independent Online
Several months after Oregon's long-time US Senator, Bob Packwood, resigned in in a sexual harassment scandal, his state is choosing a replacement. The primary election is tomorrow. But there will be no queues of Oregonians outside polling stations, or polling stations, for that matter.

Oregon has arranged a "kitchen-table" election. No one will need to go into a polling booth, as all the voting is being done through the post.

It is an experiment in democracy that the rest of America is watching keenly. If it works, other states may follow suit. Postal voting is much cheaper and the level of participation is higher.

While Oregon has dabbled in postal balloting for local elections for more than a decade, this is the first time any US state has used the method to elect a federal official. The postman will be used in the same way in the presidential primary elections here next spring.

One difference is that votershave lots of time to make up their minds. In this primary race, Oregon is choosing one candidate each from the Democratic and Republican parties to face each other in a general election next January. Voters received their ballot papers in the post three weeks ago and the deadline for returning them is tomorrow.

There are consequences for the candidates also. Because at least half of those who vote do so within five days of receiving their ballots, the politicians have to start their campaigns running at full tilt. It lessens the temptation of last-minute smear tactics. If most voting is already done, there is little point.

While it has been shown that the turn-out goes up by at least 10 per cent under the postal system, critics worry about the potential for fraud, while sometraditionalists are simply reluctant to see the end of the polling-station ritual.

That was the complaint of Carl Rumpf, a sales manager for a paints company in Portland. "It may be a good idea, but I still like the old-fashioned way. If someone is too lazy to go and vote then they shouldn't get to," he said. But Scott Tighe, the state elections manager, disagreed.

"While some aspects of polling-place elections are appealing to that nostalgic sense of citizenship, we have to look at the fact that technology is changing our world," he said.

In the meantime, however, there is one more worry about Oregon's experiment: the reliability, or otherwise, of the United States Postal Service.