ENTERPRISE — Sometime this week, each of 5,798 registered voters in Wallowa County will get a postcard from Sandy Lathrop, the county clerk, to confirm party affiliations.
Lathrop said it’s important to read it carefully and respond if needed. And, if you are a registered voter and you don’t get a postcard, contacting the county clerk’s office is even more important, she said. Your capacity to vote in future elections may be at stake.
“One problem we are trying to resolve is that there’s a significant number of voters who think they are registered as one party, but are actually registered differently,” Lathrop said. “Sometimes people think they are registered as either a Republican or a Democrat when actually their registration is ‘unaffiliated’ or a different party than they thought they were.”
Lathrop attributes some of this confusion to Oregon’s “motor voter” law. When you register a vehicle in the state, or get an Oregon driver’s license, you are also able to register to vote if you are 18 years or older. Those who do not choose a party affiliation on the motor voter registration form are automatically designated as “unaffiliated.”
“The motor-voter system automatically registers you as a voter when you get a license or register a vehicle,” Lathrop said. “If you don’t want to register to vote, you actually have to opt out. If you don’t opt out and don’t choose a party, you’ll be registered as unaffiliated by the state elections commission. That’s the way it goes into our local registrations system.”
During the May primary election, a number of voters got what they thought was the wrong ballot.
“We had quite a few people who called and said they were certain they were registered in a party that they’ve been long-time members of,” Lathrop said. “So I asked them to come into the office and let them actually look at the screen (on my computer) — which literally shows a scan of the registration form as they filled it out — and showed them the registration that I have.
“Usually it’s a motor voter registration that has classified them as ‘unaffiliated.’ Occasionally it’s a regular registration where they’ve checked the wrong box or forgot to indicate party affiliation,” Lathrop said. “They are really glad they had a chance to correct things.”
Another problem that Lathrop hopes to fix are people who don’t get a ballot because they moved and forgot to change the address on their voter registration. If a ballot is sent to the wrong address, it cannot be forwarded. And so it returns to the clerk’s office. The voter who’s moved never receives a ballot, and thus, never votes.
“If you’ve moved, you should come into the county clerk’s office to change your address,” Lathrop said.
The bottom line — if you are a registered voter and you don’t get a postcard confirming your registration, then you need to visit the county clerk’s office on the first floor of the courthouse and make sure your address is correct. And if the card shows you as unaffiliated or the wrong party, that needs to be fixed as well.
“If there’s something wrong, people should contact me,” Lathrop said. “If I don’t hear from them, I’ll assume that their address and voter information are correct.”
Voters have until Oct. 13 to make changes, including address changes, to their voter registration. For anyone not registered to vote, that’s also the deadline to register.