Two ballots from a previous election. File photo: Chas Hundley

A new Oregon law that went into effect January 1 allows mail-in ballots to be counted on Election Day as long as they are in the mail and postmarked by 8:00 p.m. 

House Bill 3291 changed Oregon mail-in voting laws, which the legislature has debated since the state became the first to allow mail-in ballots for all voters more than 20 years ago, to allow ballots to become official simply by being postmarked by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. 

As long as the postmarked ballot is received by the county clerk no later than seven days after date of election, it will be counted.

The new law also allows county clerks to begin counting mail-in ballots upon receipt rather than requiring them to wait to begin counting until one week prior to the election. 

“All Oregonians who cast their ballot by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day deserve to have that ballot counted,” Secretary of State Shemia Fagan posted Jan. 11 on Twitter. “Our 2021 bill, HB 3291, guarantees that right, strengthening Oregon’s already amazing vote-by-mail system.”

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Ballots in Oregon always have been due in official drop boxes or at county elections offices by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. Previous to Jan. 1, depending on where a voter lived, the deadline to mail in a ballot was as much as one week prior to the election, giving county workers time to open, count, process, and record each ballot so the winner could be announced the day of the election.

Some conservative Oregon lawmakers, notably former senator Christine Drazan of Canby, who recently stepped down to run for governor, have stated publicly that the new law is problematic, saying it creates confusion and is too complex.

More than 12 states, including Washington and California, already have systems for mail-in voting that use postmarks to determine the eligibility of individual ballots counted during an election.