September 28, 2017

Elections Division wins national award

Last month, Elections Director Tim Scott accepted an award on behalf of the Multnomah County Elections Division at a national conference of elections administrators in California. The award was presented by The Elections Center, a national association of elections officials that works to train and certify elections workers, and to create opportunities for sharing best practices in voter registration and elections administration.

Earlier this year, the Elections Division submitted a white paper describing innovations in ordering replacement ballots ahead for pickup at the elections office to the Election Center’s Professional Practices program. The innovative idea earned the Elections Division the “Minuteman Award,” which is given to the submission which best demonstrates “a practice that is quick or inexpensive to implement or produces sustainable savings.”

Multnomah County Elections Division began exploring the possibility of an order ahead replacement ballot program in the spring of 2016 as a way of streamlining and expediting voter visits to the elections office around Election Day. In the days leading up to Election Day, the elections office sees increased visits and phone calls from voters who have misplaced their ballot, moved or otherwise require a replacement ballot. The elections office can mail out ballots to the voter until the Thursday before Election Day. After that, a voter has to go into the office to pick up their ballot. When a voter orders ahead, a ballot packet with correct ballot style and a ballot return envelope with the voter’s current registration information are printed and ready to go when they arrive and the voter experiences a much shorter wait time.

In order to make the order ahead replacement ballot possible, the Elections Division set up a web form on the Multnomah County Elections website that the voter uses to request a replacement ballot. Data submitted via this web form is automatically sent to an email inbox monitored by elections staff, who look up the voter’s record in the Oregon Centralized Voter Registration database and make sure that a replacement ballot can be issued. Once the request is approved, a ballot assembly team creates the ballot packet and delivers it to the front office so that it is ready when the voter arrives to collect the ballot. Voters can also make a replacement ballot request by phone. In this case, the phone representative will enter the voter’s information into the form, but the process is fundamentally the same.

The Elections Division ran a relatively unpublicized pilot of the order ahead replacement ballot program in the May 2016 Primary Election, and based on the positive results of that test, continued the program in the November 2016 General Election, publicizing it largely through social media. It was a tremendous success. Comparing data against the previous Presidential Election in November 2012, the Elections Division assisted 684 more voters at the front counter on Election Day and the Monday before Election Day in 2016 (3,475 in 2016 vs. 2,791 in 2012), all while keeping the line moving along briskly. The line to conduct business at the elections office stretched three-quarters of the way around the block in November 2012, while in November 2016, it barely extended one-quarter of the way around the block.

Even given the modest publicity for the program, 63 percent of replacement ballots issued for the November 2016 election were ordered ahead, and 27 percent of all visits to the elections office in the days leading up to Election Day were to pick up a ballot ordered ahead.

After accepting the Minuteman Award, Elections Director Scott gave a well-received presentation on the order ahead replacement ballot program to the elections administrators attending the Election Center conference.

Next election, remember that even if you lose your ballot or the dog eats it, you can still get a replacement ballot before the Election Day deadline. Just go to the Elections Division website at or call 503-988-3720. If it’s too late to mail the replacement out, you can just stop by the office and pick it up.