Image for Election Security Doubts Creep into Oregon

Secretary of State Fagan Reports Receiving Threats

Oregon has been rated the most accessible voter registration and voting system in America. But Oregon election officials say doubts and election denials from other states have begun creeping into Oregon.

“We know [Oregon’s election system] is safe and secure,” Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan told OPB. “But there are people who’ve just never had to think about it in Oregon. They’ve just trusted it and used it for 20 years. But they’re suddenly hearing from people in other states who’ve never thought about vote-by-mail or knew about vote-by-mail until the 2020 election.”

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan says election doubts have crept into the state, along with threats by election deniers.

It’s not just doubts creeping in, Oregon election officials also have received threats like their counterparts in other states. Fagan says she has faced threats and turned over a few to law enforcement. “They held a trial against me on Zoom, and then they let me know that I had been convicted of treason,” Fagan recalls. “And then, of course, they say the punishment for treason is death.”

As a result of threats, Fagan and county clerks in charge of elections are holding fewer large townhall meetings to answer voter questions. When meetings are held, a common topic, Fagan says, are conspiracy theories about alleged election fraud, voting machine tampering and the lack of forensic audits.

Post-election audits are conducted in Oregon elections to compare machine tabulation totals with hand counts, Fagan explains, though she discourages forensic audits, claiming they could intrude on the right to privacy in voting.

Election doubts stem from partisan allegations of election fraud but have been aimed at both Republican and Democratic secretaries of states who have defended the integrity of voting, ballot collection and vote counting.

Oregon’s trailblazing vote-by-mail system for all elections has been lauded for its convenience, allowing citizens to vote at their kitchen tables and drop them into the mailbox or an official drop box. Mailing an Oregon ballot now doesn’t even require a stamp. Vote-by-mail supporters say it promotes higher voter turnout, especially in non-presidential elections. Other states that have moved to vote-by-mail also report higher turnouts.

Behind the convenience is more than 20 years of experience in Oregon running vote-by-mail elections, working out kinks and putting into place security to ensure ballot integrity. That experience included trial runs of vote-by-mail that began with a special statewide election in 1993 and continued with statewide elections in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Oregon voters in 1998 approved an initiative to use vote-by-mail for all primary and general elections. The vote was 757,204 to 334,021.

Many states allowed vote-by-mail without the experience and safeguards that Oregon has in place.

The 2020 presidential election that coincided with the pandemic was a flashpoint. Many states allowed vote-by-mail without the experience and safeguards that Oregon has in place. That and the refusal of former President Donald Trump to accept his loss led to numerous legal challenges to election results, some involving claims of fraud in vote-by-mail balloting. The claims were fueled by election night shifts in vote totals in swing states as mail-in ballots were counted after in-person voting.

Election fraud claims have taken on a tent-revival presence with election deniers such as My Pillow founder Mike Lindell give bombastic speeches. Speakers have conducted rallies in the Pacific Northwest, which has succeeded in raising some doubts about the integrity of vote-by-mail.

As OPB reported, there is a hotly contested election in relatively nearby Shasta County in Northern California. County Supervisor Patrick Jones is casting doubt about the election outcome after the conservative candidates he supported lost. “With the work that went into it, the money that went into it, the effort, the issues. It doesn’t smell right,” Jones says. “It doesn’t look right, it doesn’t smell right.” Much like Trump, Jones wants an independent review of the results, but has offered no evidence of fraud or wrongdoing.

Election denial also has a voice in Washington’s Third Congressional District race where GOP candidate Joe Kent, whom Trump has endorsed, expresses doubt about the 2020 presidential election. The GOP candidate for Klickitat County auditor also has voiced claims of election fraud.

Oregon GOP gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan has not joined the far-right bandwagon on election doubts and acknowledges Biden won the presidency. One of her primary opponents, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, asserted the 2020 presidential outcome was “fraudulent”.

Political observers increasingly see attacks on election processes and outcomes as part of a larger political project, which includes efforts to discredit the news media and traffic in conspiracy theories, to undermine confidence in US institutions.