Listen: Oregon's Amazing Vote-By-Mail Elections with Nancy Blankenship 🎧 | Local News | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Listen: Oregon's Amazing Vote-By-Mail Elections with Nancy Blankenship 🎧 

Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship traces the history of Oregon's "motor voter" law and mail-in ballot system, and makes some recommendations to help voters make sure their ballot is counted in this year's historic election

For this week’s episode of “Bend Don’t Break” we talk with Nancy Blankenship, who has been serving as the Deschutes County Clerk since 2003. Many of us know her name, but we wanted to find out more about the person behind the ballots in Deschutes County.

Nancy Blankenship has been serving as Deschutes County Clerk since 2003. - DESCHUTES COUNTY
  • Deschutes County
  • Nancy Blankenship has been serving as Deschutes County Clerk since 2003.
Blankenship is a third-generation Oregonian who has lived in Central Oregon for most of her life. She grew up in a civic-minded family, and was exposed to the importance of participating in the democratic process from a young age. She’s been certified as an election administrator by Auburn University and is the past president of the Oregon Association of County Clerks, as well as a member of the International Association of Government Officials. She also worked as the city recorder for Redmond for 15 years before she was hired by Deschutes County.

In short, Blankenship is an expert on voting and ballot counting. In these uncertain times, where false information about voter fraud circles endlessly around social media, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to hear from the county’s top voting official about Oregon’s secure and inclusive vote-by-mail and motor voter elections.

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“When you look at the history of Oregon, when one party was for [mail-in voting] the other party was against it, and vice versa,” Blankenship said. “Eventually in 1998 an initiative received enough signatures to go on the ballot, and in November of 1998, an overwhelming two-thirds majority voted in favor of all vote-by-mail in Oregon… We feel pretty good about being the nation’s first vote-by-mail state. Washington was second and then Colorado…”

We asked Blankenship if there is any merit to the argument that the U.S. Postal Service can’t handle the volume of mail produced in a vote-by-mail system.

“They’ve got their systems in place. My contact at the main Portland office has been doing this longer than I have, and I’ve been here for 17 years. The volume of mail… although its large… is nothing compared to this thing that the post office has been doing for hundreds of years called Christmas and the holidays… Don’t worry, the post office has your best interests at heart,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship also assured us that voter fraud is extremely uncommon. During the 2016 election, the Oregon Secretary of State moved forward 52-54 cases of potential fraud to the attorney general and most of those were from people that may have voted in two states, she said. Oregon is part of a consortium that helps identify double votes or track people that have moved from different states and counties. The clerk’s office also works with the county health department to remove people from the roles when they die.

A line of cars forms behind one of Bend's busiest ballot drop box sites at the Deschutes County Clerk’s office at 1300 NW Wall Street. - LAUREL BRAUNS
  • Laurel Brauns
  • A line of cars forms behind one of Bend's busiest ballot drop box sites at the Deschutes County Clerk’s office at 1300 NW Wall Street.
Blankenship said that just this year, the number of registered Democrats surpassed the number of registered Republicans in the county, though voters identifying as “non-affiliated” make up the largest voting block. She said since 2016, the county has seen a surge is registrations from 100,000 to 148,000 today.

Blankenship said that if voters in Deschutes County haven’t mailed back their ballot by Tuesday, Oct. 27, they should take it to an official ballot drop box.

Between 1-3% of ballots were “challenged” by the county in recent elections. If a voter forgets to sign the outside envelope or if a voter’s signature doesn’t match, they will be notified. Every ballot is signature certified by experts who match the ballot signature to the one on a voter registration card. Blankenship recommended updating your signature by getting a signature update card at oregonvotes.gov, at the library, DMV or the County Clerk’s office.

When ballots are challenged, voters are notified by mail with a yellow card and have the opportunity to submit their signature at that time. They must resolve the issue within 14 days of the election.

Blankenship also gave us a short history of the state’s “motor voter” law passed in 2015 that automatically registers people to vote when they have an interaction with the DMV such as getting a driver’s license, a permit or a non-driver ID. They are then mailed a card where they can register their party affiliation, but it’s not required.

Blankenship encouraged people in Deschutes County with questions about elections or the voting process to call the County Clerk’s office. (I called the other day and the person who answered was very helpful.)

“After I’ve given tours to people in the community to show them what the voting processes are and how it works, and all the checks and balances we have in place... They always feel more confident about the system,” Blankenship concluded. “We really do have a good system in Oregon that we have been doing for the last 20 plus years.”

Deschutes County ballots will be mailed Wednesday, Oct. 14. Blankenship personally escorts the ballots over to the post office, where they are pre-sorted and ready to be delivered locally. Ballots should arrive by Saturday, Oct. 17 at the latest. See below for info on drop box sites and the County Clerk’s office.

Listen to more from Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship on this week's episode of “Bend Don't Break,” hosted by the Source Weekly’s publisher Aaron Switzer. Every week, Switzer invites on a someone from the community with a new perspective on living through the COVID-19 pandemic including mental health professionals, economists, educators, artists, business people, local leaders and historians. Subscribe on iTunes, Soundcloud or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Drop off your ballot:
Ballots come with prepaid postage, so pop it in the mail by Monday, Oct. 26. If you haven’t mailed it by Tuesday, Oct. 27, take it to a Deschutes County official drop box. One of the most popular sites is at the Deschutes County Clerk’s office at 1300 NW Wall Street. Access the drive-thru drop box by turning off of NW Wall Street across from Wall Street Storage. The drop box sites will be open on Friday, Oct. 16.
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