Have you voted yet?

If you haven’t, you are not alone. Kim Lindell, elections manager for Umatilla County, said she is dismayed at the county’s low voter turnout with only a week to go before next Tuesday’s 8 p.m. deadline.

Even with vote-by-mail, which started in 1998, turnout “has gotten worse and worse over the years,” said the 18-year veteran with Umatilla County Elections. “It used to get crazy around here with so many people bringing their ballots in, they had to stand in line.”

According to the Oregon Elections Division, just over 10 percent of Umatilla County voters have mailed or dropped off ballots as of May 7. The number rose to about 14 percent by Wednesday morning, Lindell said. Statewide, voter turnout is more anemic — just 8.6 percent as of May 7. Morrow County reached 13 percent that day.

As Lindell talked, the door opened and an employee of the Stafford Hansell Government Center in Hermiston entered and plopped a large, blue canvas bag on the counter. Inside were ballots dropped off at city halls in Umatilla, Hermiston, Stanfield and Echo. She peered inside and pronounced the batch a pretty good day’s haul from the county’s west side.

Other drop boxes include one at the Umatilla County Courthouse and another at the Nixyaawii Governance Center.

Lindell doesn’t recommend people mail ballots this close to the election. That said, she treks each day to the Pendleton Post Office to pick up ballots that have been set apart from the rest of the mail. Instead of going to Portland for processing, the ballots are fast-tracked over to the courthouse.

Inside the office’s work room on Wednesday, six election workers inspected ballots. Beside each woman sat a tray filled with ballots rubber banded into groups of 50.

The workers noted write-in votes and looked to see if the voter had darkened the circle next to the write-in line. If not, they filled it in. They looked for marks too light for the voting machine to detect and darkened them. If a ballot had a spill on it — such as sticky maple syrup or ketchup that could clog the machine — the spill was covered with tape.

The main thing, Lindell said, is to honor a voter’s intent.

Each count is double-checked and verified.

“It’s a check and balance system the whole way through,” she said.

She said each election has an ebb and flow.

“The first week after the ballots go out, there is generally good turnout and then it slacks off until the Monday and Tuesday before the election,” Lindell said.

Turnout varies by party. As of May 7 In Umatilla County, 1,267 of 8,941 registered Democrats (13.8 percent) had voted compared with 2,186 of 14,082 Republicans (15.5 percent) and 186 of 1,862 Independents (10 percent).

Lindell hopes voters from every party pick up the pace soon.

“We need to get the word out,” she said. “I’d hate to see less than one half of voters decide who runs this county.”


Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0810.

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