Wednesday, October 20, 2004

OREGON: GOP operatives plan ballot collection drive

Associated Press

PORTLAND -- With an all-mail ballot election, Oregon voters don't have to worry about driving to a polling booth. Now they don't have to worry about walking to a mailbox.

The Oregon Republican Party said Tuesday that it has organized volunteers to go into neighborhoods throughout the state and collect ballots cast by President Bush's supporters. Canvassers for the Democratic Party of Oregon collected ballots from supporters in the 2000 and 2002 elections, and plan to do it again.

The efforts concern elections officials, who urge voters to mail their ballots or personally deliver them to drop sites."You don't want to speculate about what kind of mischief there might be," said John Kauffman, Multnomah County elections director. "I'm just uncomfortable about people going door to door collecting ballots."

But in a year when the parties and other interest groups are spending millions of dollars trying to sway voters in Oregon, the parties see collecting ballots as a way to ensure as high a turnout as possible.

Kevin Mannix, the chairman of the Oregon Republicans, said volunteers will offer several assurances that ballots they pick up will be delivered to county elections offices. He said volunteers will be in distinctive red clothing, carry identification and offer a receipt to voters who turn over their ballots.

Neel Pender, executive director of the Oregon Democratic Party, said his party's canvassers also will have several safeguards, including handing out receipts.

In Oregon, it is a felony to accept a ballot and purposely not turn it in.

Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, who has urged voters to return ballots on their own, said he would not pass specific judgment on the ballot-collection efforts by either party.

"We are not in the business of certifying ballot-collection efforts," Bradbury said. "My advice to voters is that they should use the mail first and then a drop box. Any other system they want to use, that is their business."Kauffman said he's concerned some canvassers who collect ballots might accidentally misplace them, raising public concern about the security of the system. Even worse would be if someone collects ballots with the intent of destroying them, he said.

Republican and Democratic officials say they expect the vast majority of voters will turn in ballots on their own. Pender said the number of ballots collected by Democratic canvassers was in the "low thousands" in 2000 and 2002.


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