Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Oregon yawns through an election

Like agriculture, or any other field of endeavor, reporting election results has changed in the last 20 years.

Unfortunately, the state of Oregon is not as far along the technological spectrum as some of our neighbors.

For the last 8 years or so I've worked at general circulation newspaper and election coverage has made for some long days, and nights, in the newsrooms where I worked in California. But the Internet changed the way the news media and the general public monitored election returns. Ten years ago, media outlets sent reporters to county court houses and election offices to wait for the latest poll numbers to be released by county and state election figures. But about eight years ago that started to change as county registrars in California, and the Secretary of State started posting election returns online.

For the last several years, anyone with an Internet connection has been able to get the results as, or more, quickly online as they could on site at an election office.

I expected to find something similar here in Oregon. Based on today's primary election, I was sorely disappointed.

Oh, I could still get the most up-to-date election news online, but the Secretary of State's election site was virtually worthless, except for links to county election sites. Fortunately, the Associated Press had its act together and provided the most up-to-date information through links from other news media sites.

According to the Secretary of State, as of the end of day Monday, only 27 percents of registered voters had returned ballots in the state's vote-by-mail election. Voters had until 8 p.m. tonight to drop off their ballots at approved drop-off sites.

One area where Oregon does now seem to be taking the lead from California and other states is in a drop-off in voter turnout.

Districts seeking bond measures that required a majority of votes and a majority of registered voters to cast ballots for passage were defeated by virtue of simply not enough ballots cast, regardless of whether those who did vote approved, or disapproved, of the measures.

Oregon's vote-by-mail system was seen as a way to keep the electorate involved when it was established. But that now seems to be a going by the boards like the analog telephone, over-the-air television broadcasts or a mule pulling a plow.

While voter registration in Oregon is higher than ever before, fewer ballots were cast in this primary than in the last one four years ago. Idaho will go to the polls next week. Californians next month. But in this representative democracy, where there is an ever-growing number of politicians in Congress, state houses and local governments, the proportion of those who choose those representatives is ever-shrinking.

In the wake of terrorism fears we've allowed government to infringe on our rights to privacy in our airports, public places, on our telephone lines and other places with hardly a whimper. In ever-greater numbers, Americans are surrendering their right to vote as well.

And we wonder if right-to-farm laws will hold up.

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