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.