What you need to know about Kate Brown and ballot collection rules

By Mike Selvaggio of West Linn, Oregon. Mike is a state policy analyst and former campaign consultant.

I really like reading my local West Linn police log. It’s often filled with hilariously bland concerns, indicating that my fellow denizens harbor an unhealthy obsession with the suspiciousness of chickens or the volume of children’s birthday parties.

But yesterday there was a call made to the police that was at once lackluster in its importance and chilling in its motive. According to the Willamette Week, my local police department was called by the county elections office in an attempt to stop Democratic canvassers who were offering to collect ballots.

This post isn’t about the absurdity of whether ballot collection is legal (it is), or whether that move was an attempt from my local elections office to deflect attention away from a potentially shattering in-house ballot tampering scandal (sure seems like it).

This post is about how Secretary of State Kate Brown figures into this and why I’m proud to be supporting her for Secretary of State.

Not so long ago, back in 2005, Brown was Senate Democratic leader and chair of the Senate Rules Committee, whose purview included elections issues. Over from the Republican-controlled House comes House Bill 3090, which is a Frankenstein monster of voter suppression. The bill would not even allow me to deliver my partner’s sealed ballot to a mailbox. Immediately, some stakeholders suggested saving a lot of effort and just putting the bill in a drawer and letting it die.

But Kate Brown sees otherwise. The subtext of the bill does not, in itself, make a bad point: The state’s ballot collection processes are relatively loose, and could do with some tightening up. But not like this. So then-Senator Brown works with then-Senator Charlie Ringo (who I was working for at the time) to perform some serious surgery on the bill.

By the time Senate amendments were added to the bill, the result was something that the initial Republican sponsor was satisfied with as an improvement over our current ballot collection laws. It distinguished between privately- and publicly-accessible drops, it required the County Clerks to be informed of unofficial public collections, and it made the entire process more transparent. Even Senate Republican leader Ted Ferrioli voted in favor of passing the amended bill out of committee.

Then, for reasons that have yet to be explained to me, the Senate Republicans locked up against the bill and killed it on the floor of the Senate. (Quick note to anyone looking up the legislative history: the “Beyer” is Roger Beyer, not Lee Beyer.) It wasn’t a particularly wicked maneuver; the then- (and still-) current laws served their purpose and the State wasn’t particularly in dire need of the bill. No big deal; just a waste of everyone’s time.

But the abuse of power and gnashing of teeth that happened yesterday in Clackamas County puts the Secretary of State’s race in greater focus.

The syndicate that has come together in an attempt to oust Kate Brown is willing to loudly lament GOTV ballot collection, while at the same time is made up of those who have stalwartly blocked reforms to the same.

Kate Brown, meanwhile, took the time and effort to work across the aisle, adopt ideas from both sides, and propose common sense-reforms to our elections system that would have eliminated the unpleasantness of yesterday afternoon.

So the next time someone bemoans the casualness of Oregon’s ballot collection laws, remind them that Kate Brown’s on top of it, and they’ll have to take their concerns up with the opposition.

Disclaimer: I am a state employee who sometimes has an administrative or policy interest in the Secretary of State’s office. The views expressed here imply neither advocacy nor opposition on the part of anyone except myself.

  • (Show?)

    Kate Brown has demanded that the U.S. Postal Service not deliver any completed ballots that have insufficient postage. This will disenfranchise probably thousands of Oregon voters. See http://hosted.comm100.com/Newsletter/Newsletter_EmailWebVersion.aspx?key=9XaAUo92EKG6vukXCHgFY1i3fAtWhzqEesf%2fRxuScNJA%2f%2b29SkxwkQ%3d%3d&siteId=39553 and http://www.oregonlive.com/mapes/index.ssf/2012/11/charges_fly_in_oregon_secretar.html

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        " You request that the Postal Service Cease this practice, claiming that its continuance conflicts with Oregon law, as well as unspecified provisions of the United States Constitution. We disagree with those assertions."

        So, the ask from the Oregon Election Division is clear. It also talks about provisions of the USConstitution. Steve Trout is not a constitutional lawyer (or lawyer in any capacity that I am aware of,) so the genesis of the request did not likely come from his pen, but from his office. Kate's Office.

        So, are you saying that Steve Trout is a loose cannon sending letters off to federal officials without approval from on high?

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          I don't know if he is a loose cannon and neither do you. The evidence is that Kate Brown acted to ensure the processing of all ballots well before Donahoe's reply.

          The claim that Kate Brown acted to try to suppress rural votes, which is what is stated in the Progressive Party email I got, is contradicted by the evidence available and supported by none. The charge is spurious, malicious and contemptible. Up until now I had respect for the Progressive Party. Right now I have none.

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        First, you assume that Steve Trout is a loose cannon who sent a demand to the Postmaster General without approval or knowledge of Kate Brown. If that were the case, Kate Brown could say so. She has not said so.

        Second, if there exists a Brown letter to county elections officials (which has not been shown to the public), that letter supposedly instructs them to process the ballots they receive. That is meaningless, because at the same time the Secretary of State's office had a demand with the Postal Service that the Postal Service not deliver the insufficient postage ballots at all.

        Third, you are seeking to mislead readers by trying to deny that the Secretary of State's office sought to have the Postal Service not deliver any ballot with insufficient postage and that this request was shot down by the Postmaster General on October 31. If Kate Brown had somehow already solved this "problem" (which her office created), why did the Postmaster General feel compelled to reject the request on October 31?

        Fourth, I proposed at the 2009 Legislature that the State negotiate a deal with the Postal Service so that ballots do not need postage at all. Kate Bron was Secretary of State and did not support it. Now, suddenly, she is in favor of what I proposed 3.5 years ago.

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          I assume nothing. It is the Progressive Party which is doing the assuming.

          You seem to suggest that Brown might not have sent the directive. Do you think that Jeff Mapes would not have discovered that if it was the case? That Knute Buehler would not have? How about the minimal responsibility on your part of actually seeking the evidence before throwing out charges of gross misconduct? There are 36 county elections offices. How about asking?

          I have no insight or information on Steve Trout's motives. Ockham's razor to me suggests it is more likely that Brown found out about the letter, understood that federal law is as P.G. Donahoe says so that Trout's request would be rejected, and issued the right policy. As to her silence, there could be political motives but it also would be a bad business to throw the Elections Division into turmoil two weeks before the election. Those explanations could co-exist.

          You on the other hand propose a bizarre conspiracy by Brown that seems to go like this: KB, thinking to herself: "Hmm, I'm in the middle of a tough re-election fight, but I'm bored, let's see, what could I do to make life more exciting, oh, I know, I'll have Steve Trout write to the Postmaster General to stop delivery of a tiny number of ballots with insufficient postage, then turn around and issue an order that ballots without sufficient postage should be processed, and then I can get the frisson of worrying about the whole thing leaking out. Yes! That's it."

          Right. Makes sense to me.

          Kate Brown should have supported your proposal in 2009. You should take yes for an answer now. We should all work together to implement it, as clearly there is a problem in the most populous county in the state if nowhere else (there could be elsewhere).

          You should retract this charge, and apologize, or come up with some actual evidence.

          Making unfounded, unevidenced, dishonest politically motivated charges in this way seriously undermines the Progressive Party's role as a force for election reform including campaign finance reform. I genuinely regard that as a shame.

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            I have simply brought the facts to public light, thanks to whomever leaked the Postmaster General's letter. I cannot explain much that Kate Brown does. I cannot explain why in 2008 she promised to pursue a constitutional amendment to allow limits on political contributions in Oregon races and then did nothing about it for the past 4 years. I cannot explain why in the last 2 sessions of the Legislature she has been pushing a bill on campaign finance disclosure that even the League of Women Voters opposes as moving in the wrong direction. You are apparently a supporter of Kate Brown. It is up to you to explain her conduct, not me.

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              In this context, I am an opponent of intellectual dishonesty. Jeff Mapes brought the facts to light. The Progressive Party has chosen to selectively highlight some of them and then make assertions that go far beyond what any of them support to accuse Kate Brown of the grossest kind of political misconduct, a deliberate effort to suppress votes. There is no evidence that she did that, and some evidence that when she learned of an action that could have that effect, she moved to correct it.

              If the Progressive Party had raised the issue as one raising troubling questions, I would not be commenting at this length. But the party in its messages and ads and Robert Wolfe in his specific comments have gone much further to make unsupported accusations, based on speculations that are barely plausible, and certainly are not the only plausible speculations. I do not know your personal role in those decisions, and refrain from commenting on that.

              I am not trying to persuade you or any other reader to support Kate Brown in this context. Are you saying that her record justifies the Progressive Party in making intellectually dishonest and mendacious accusations against her? That because you don't like a candidate, it is o.k. to just make s* up about him or her?

              I used to have respect for the Progressive Party. Not now.

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      Jeff Mapes wrote that Brown insisted that all ballots be received in spite of insufficent postage. This is a last minute Trojan Horse from the Progressive Party. This is a dip of the pen in sheer gall.

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        First, the letter to the county clerks has not been disclosed to the public. Second, telling the clerks to accept ballots that are received is meaningless, if the SoS is also demanding that the Postal Service not deliver those ballots at all, which is what the Postmaster General's letter of October 31 states. Third, if Steve Trout is a loose cannon sending demands to the Postmaster General without Kate Brown's approval, then let Kate Brown tell us that. She has not.

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      There is no question in my mind that Kate asked the Postmaster General to stop delivering those ballots in order to gain a partisan edge with regard to ballots mailed by rural Oregonians, who are mostly Republican.

      This is a cynical, partisan tactic of the lowest sort, and should be denouced by all good Oregonians.

      On top of that, we now have learned from media quotes that some counties, including Multnomah, regularly trash ballots they recieve that are a few cents short on postage. How many ballots have they trashed over the years? This is outrageous, and a statewide investigation should be launched into this policy of Kate Brown's office.

      After months of bashing Knute Buehler for being against vote-by-mail (liar, liar, pants on fire), Kate Brown has revealed herself to the the greatest threat extant to the integrity of our vote-by mail system.

      Kate Brown must release all correspondance with the Postmaster General on this topic immediately. I believe those documents will show that Brown knew the PG letter was coming, and that she was covering her ass by sending a memo to the County Clerks with the order to count all ballots -- if in fact she isn't lying about that too.

      She's not "partnering with the postal service." She's responding to a letter that tells her she doesn't have the authority to continue her plot to disenfranchise yet more Oregon voters. So she's circuling the wagons, becoming secretive, and hoping voters just don't find out.

      Here's what Kate should do now:

      1. Release all the documents immediately -- today. Her campaign lackey's populate this board, so get the message to her.

      2. Apologize for the whole damn mess, and promise to allow an independent audit of the Elections division to discover what other kind of partisan, anti-voter activities she is engaged in (let's include her practice of trashing tens of thousands of voter signatures on petitions without even checking them). This assumes she is still the office holder in January, which I sincerely hope is not the case.

      3. If Trout is the responsible party, she should fire him immediately and publicly.

      I'm dubbing this "postal gate" and will continue to push this issue through Tuesday and beyond. The pile of evidence we have now of Kate's sloppy, slippery and anti-voter practices across the entire swath of her purview as Secretary of State means she should no longer be allowed to hold this office.

      Robert Wolfe Secretary of State Candidate Oregon Progressive Party www.WolfeForOregon.org

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    The career politician, Brown, has made a hash of the SOS office. Time for a change in direction.

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    I read the letter from the US Postmater here:


    Hard to draw any conclusion other than that Browns office was trying to get the USPS to withhold ballots. Now it seems that every county has their own policy regarding this issue 4 days from election day.

    Choose your own: Sloppy or Malfeasant

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      The letter came from Steve Trout. I don't know how he came to send it.

      However, according to The Oregonian's reporting, Brown had Trout send an email to all the county election officials directing that ballots arriving with insufficient postage be processed. The date of that email is reported as October 26, and the P.G.'s reply Oct 31.

      So it appear not to be the case that every county has its own policy -- actually that seems to have been true previously.

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        First, the letter to the county clerks has not been disclosed to the public. Second, telling the clerks to accept ballots that are received is meaningless, if the SoS is also demanding that the Postal Service not deliver those ballots at all, which is what the Postmaster General's letter of October 31 states. Third, if Steve Trout is a loose cannon sending demands to the Postmaster General without Kate Brown's approval, then let Kate Brown tell us that. She has not.

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          See my reply to you above. Do you really think that if it did not exist, or was different than reported, or that the SoS or county offices were resisting public record requests, that Jeff Mapes would not be reporting that or Knute Buehler's campaign trumpeting it loudly?

          How about you show us evidence to support serious charges?

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        And why has Kate Brown allowed the counties not to count these insufficient postage ballots for 99.9% of the 4 years she has been in office?

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    I see the Naderites are back.

    Well Kate Brown has been on the case with Clack. Co. and their malpractice:


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      Yes, the Clackamas County Clerk reported this problem. How does that reflect on the Secretary of State?

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      Hey Bill, Why so dismissive?

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        Because the way the Progressive Party is telling the story is a lie. See my reply to Dan Meek above.

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          A Lie....

          Read my response above. You sir are the one being disingenuous. Trout as "loose cannon?" Laughable.

          So is there a separate watercooler for a progressive of my stripes to drink from?

          • (Show?)

            You were the one who introduced the term loose cannon. I have never said that. Both The Oregonian's reporting and Dan Meek's comments about 2009 suggest that there have been concerns about this for a long time, that some kind of spurious "moral hazard" argument about people getting out of paying postage has obstructed the sensible short term policy now arrived at, and that the situation may have been confusing. I can imagine a number of non-loose cannon, non-directed by Kate Brown ways that this could have happened.

            Nor am I saying that Kate Brown's actions are above criticism.

            What I am saying that the accusations of a vote suppression conspiracy on Brown's part, made by Robert Wolfe above (since last I commented) and in the dishonest ad which BlueOregon is accepting for reasons I can't quite fathom, are not supported by any evidence. They are not framed as questions to be raised in light of Patrick Donahoe's letter. They are framed as positive and definitive conclusions, despite the fact of actions that run against the speculations. They are mendacious and intellectually dishonest.

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              No, Chris, you introduced it by trying to claim that Trout communicated with the Postmaster without Kate Brown's approval: "The Oregonian story Dan Meek links says that the letter to the USPS came from Elections Director Steve Trout, not Kate Brown."

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                Dan, I do not know if he had approval, and neither do you. I also can imagine that, say, Trout might have acted thinking he was doing so in the context of general discussions about the problem of consistency around the issue across counties and in other ways, that seem to be reflected in The Oregonian article and indeed in some of the history you have related. To me that would not make him a loose cannon. Also note that it would not involve any intent to suppress votes, but internal bureaucratic tendencies to like consistency. I don't know that is what happened, but it seems more plausible to me than the Progressive Party's wild accusations. There could be other explanations as well.

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                  Chris - The State Director of Elections sent a demand to the USPS that they not deliver ballots that lacked sufficient postage.

                  Is there any way to interpret that action in which carrying it out would not result in a suppression of votes?

                  Secretary Brown says that her office reversed her Director's original position on October 26th, a week after ballots were mailed, so going forward it looks like the "correct position" from a ballot integrity standpoint, has been adopted.

                  That does not mean, however, that Mr Meek or Mr Wolfe are wrong when they assert that Brown's office attempted to get the post office to refrain from delivering ballots that lacked sufficient postage.

                  I am more troubled that Tim Scott, Director of Multnomah County Elections, is now on record as saying that his office's policy for years has been to reject these ballots. I believe that this may be an unconstitutional poll tax vis-a-vis the returned ballots. It also constitutes an equal protection problem for Oregon voters since some counties have accepted NSF ballots and others have not.

                  This has likely affected thousands of ballots in Oregon elections dating back to 2000. It is a BFD that the legislature will need to address in the next session.

                  For years, I have been pushing for the state to adopt consistent standards for how the clerks implement a variety of election laws, including the processing of ballots and voter registration cards.

                  Perhaps this incident will cause the SOS and legislature to reconsider whether it make sense to give the clerks as much leeway as it has given them over the years.

                  One final point to Chris: If an agent acting on behalf of a Republican Secretary of State had sent a letter to the USPS demanding that NSF ballots not be delivered, would your responses be the same as they have been in this thread?

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                    After seeing Mr Trout's initial emails, I need to withdraw the portion of the comments that relates specifically to his initial request. Based on the written comments the letter from the postmaster general looks like a strongly worded overreaction. I stand behind the remarks about not giving the clerks so much leeway.

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    SoS office needs to immediately release all communications between it and USPO. It appears from USPO that not only did SoS demand the USPO not deliver short rate ballots, but that it made statutory and constitutional arguments. That isn't asking for clarification. That's appears to be a legal brief.

    This is incredible. It really is incredible.

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      Read the story at The Oregonian. It does not show the secretary of state, Kate Brown, doing anything of the sort. It shows her ordering that there be a consistent statewide policy of accepting and processing insufficient postage ballots, well before the USPS replied to the letter from Steve Trout, which is addressed to Trout.

      How it came to be Steve Trout sent that letter in the first place is not clear.

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        I was careful to say the SoS office the first time and should have repeated that.I don't know who at the SoS office was involved in this decision. And I don't know who would have authorized Mr. Trout to have contacted the P.G.directly and engage in what appears from the tone of th USPO letter to be a pointed exchange. Perhaps Mr. Trout dis do that on his own. What do you think?

        But Again, simple solution. Release all correspondence,emails, notes, etc. Of all communications. Immediately.

        If not, why not.

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        So Chris contends that Kate Brown's hand-picked Director of Elections for the State, Steve Trout, on his own sent what appears to be a demand and legal argument to the Postmaster General, seeking to stop the Postal Service from delivering the insufficient postage ballots. If that is the case, why doesn't Kate Brown say so? And why did Kate Brown hire someone who would do such a thing without her approval?

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          Your accusation is that Kate Brown personally has engaged in an effort as systematic vote suppression with predictable consequences for rural areas.

          That is a huge deal given the widespread evidence of different kinds of vote suppression by Republicans in other states. It is a tremendously serious charge.

          Now you are backing off and waving your hands and trying to change the subject to Brown's personnel management issues, in order to cover up the sloppiness and intellectual dishonesty of the Progressive Party charges which go well beyond anything the evidence supports.

          I contend nothing. I don't know what happened, except that Trout appears to have sent the letter to which Donahoe replied. It seems possible to me that could have happened several ways. It seems possible that Brown might have decided to handle the immediate problem by issuing the directive of October 26, and decided not to deal with the rest until after the election, given its proximity in time. If she's re-elected I will watch what happens to Steve Trout. If she's not, it becomes moot.

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      Yes, I think it would make all these facts clear. It seems that some are ready to toss Trout under the bus.

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        Trout's actions could have been motivated by something other than "loose cannon" or "doing Brown's dirty work." It is the Progressive Party and yourself who have tried to reduce the choices to those, and thereby throw Trout under the bus, either on his own or together with Kate Brown.

        I don't know what his exact actions were, much less his motives. Neither do you. Neither does the Progressive Party.

        The Progressive Party however appears to have decided to throw regard for evidence and honest argument under the bus. (I don't know if you are affiliated with the PP or not, this is a comment on the letter they circulated to me by email.)

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    That sounds like an interesting bill. I wonder if the Secretary of State then played any role in the bill's defeat?

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    Do Republicans have a higher rate of not putting the correct amount of postage on their male than Democrats or other party affiliated voters? Not sure why such a policy, if it was even true, would be a partisan act at all. Seems like her opposition is grasping at straws, but I could be wrong. Her opponent has never served in elected office before, and I really don't want a dude from a totally and completely dishonest political party in who has never served the public ever in his life in charge of overseeing the elections in our state and being next in line to the position of governor in our state of Oregon.

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      Good question Hart.

      If you read The Oregonian's story, the one place where this definitely has been happening has been Multnomah County. It may be happening elsewhere, or not.

      The Progressive Party in the email they sent out raises a legitimate concern that rural people have much less access to drop sites than urban or suburban people, and thus are more reliant on the USPS. So even if the prevalence of underpaid postage is the same in the rural and urban populations, a much higher proportion of rural votes is likely to be exposed to that risk.

      And rural areas do tend to be more Republican.

      To this one could add that the postage itself could be a small barrier to voting. Also, if the Postal Service goes through with its ridiculous proposed rural service cuts, the whole vote by mail system is going to need some re-examination in that light.

      • (Show?)

        Well, for starters, we need to know which counties have ballots that require a double stamp.

        Every county is responsible for printing its own ballots - and certainly the size of the ballot (and thus its weight) is going to be dependent on the number of races.

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    I didn't know that paranoia was the new religion. From what I've read it doesn't look like an election will prove anything other than the duplicity of the winner, according to some.

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