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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10 Questions (and Answers) You Might Have About Your Ballot

Posted by Kevin "the Intern" Otzenberger on Tue, Oct 19, 2010 at 3:08 PM

You just got your Multnomah County Election ballot in the mail, and you’re panicking. “I’m going to fuck this up,” you tell yourself. “I just can’t seem to pull it together.”

Well, friend, we're here to say, “You can do it — we can help.” Here's 10 questions you might have about your ballot. Read them. Know them. Keep democracy alive. Or whatever.

1. Why does it say “CONTAINS VOTE ON PROPOSED TAX INCREASE” on the front of the envelope? A: This has been required by state statute ORS 250.038 since 1999, to inform voters that their ballot decisions will directly decide on the fate of a proposed tax increase or renewal. It's to make sure voters read everything carefully. It's not to scare old people. Ostensibly.

Q: How is it decided what arguments get space in the voter's pamphlet?
A: Space in the newsprint booklet full of arguments for and against measures that should have arrived in your mailbox last week is decided the way everything is in democracy: it's bought and sold. Ha HA! No, but really, any candidate or political action group can buy space in the pamphlet to tell you how to vote. The "Traditional Prejudices Coalition" infamously spoofed Measure 36 when they bought the first slot in the voters pamphlet in favor of the gay marriage-banning measure and used the space to proclaim "marriage is for wimps and sissies!" Prices vary by office. National candidates for senate can either pay Oregon $3000 or submit 500 signatures endorsing their ballot text. State measures have to pay $1200 or get 500 signatures while candidates for city offices can either pay $600 or collect 300 signatures. Surprisingly, a lot of campaigns actually pony up the cash instead of collecting the signatures. For this election, 49 candidates submitted signatures while six paid the cash, while 12 measure campaigns paid the cash and only two gathered the necessary signatures.

Q: What if I accidentally spill coffee or pig’s blood all over my ballot?

A: As long as it’s still legible, the elections office has to count your disgusting ballot. If your responses are ruined, you can order a replacement ballot by calling the Multnomah County Elections Office at 503-988-3720.

Q: When should I start freaking out that my ballot still hasn’t arrived?
A: Thursday, Oct 21. If you don’t have it by then, call the elections office. If you still haven’t received it by Oct. 29, you’ll have to go to the elections office at 1040 SE Morrison St. and pick up a replacement ballot in person.

Q: What are all these weird holes in the paperwork for?
A: Disabled people. Those holes help the seeing impaired to recognize the envelope by feel, and to know exactly where to sign.

Q: What if all the screaming fights in my house make it hard to concentrate on voting?
A: Go to the Helen Walton Conference Room on the 2nd floor of the elections office. It’s a quiet, well-lit place where they have booths with privacy screens and page magnifiers.

Q: What if I accidentally signed my roommate's return envelope?
A: Cross your signature out, have your roommate sign above it, then sign the right one this time. Everything will be fine. If it’s already been mailed, you can call and have a replacement ballot sent to you (nullifying the first one). This also should be done before Oct. 21, and must be taken care of in person after Oct. 29.

Q: Oh, Lord. Is the secrecy envelope really required?
A: No.

Q: What if I voted “Yes” and “No” on something?
A: Pick one. You have to. Then, strike through the one you don’t want, and scribble “not this” right next to the bubble. They will understand.

Q 10: What if I love the camaraderie of voting in person on election day, but I don’t want to get out of my car?

A: Call to make an appointment, park out front, and they’ll bring the election materials out to your car like a hot dog at Sonic. No, really.

If you have any other problems, you can call the elections office, or visit for more information. I would suggest scrolling down on the election information page to where it says “voter assistance” and clicking on the “What’s New with Multnomah County Elections” video file link to see just how great the election services are. It’s worth it just for the background music.

—Sarah Mirk contributed to this post. Thanks!

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