Oregon has adopted several pieces of landmark legislation over the past 31 years which have given this state a reputation as an innovator.

The first and perhaps most famous of these forward-thinking laws is Oregon's "bottle bill," which was passed by the state legislature in 1971. This legislation put an end to the "no deposit - no return" label on beverage containers and required that all beer and carbonated soft drink containers have a minimum refund value. In the 31 years that the bottle bill has been law litter has been substantially reduced across Oregon. Before passage, beverage containers comprised 40 percent of roadside litter. Since then that figure has dropped to under 6 percent.

The next law which bolstered Oregon's reputation as a progressive state was Senate Bill 100, which created Oregon's statewide land use planning program. This law is widely credited with preserving Oregon's precious farmland, coastline and natural areas and encouraging local governments to make good land use planning decisions.

The third law that established Oregon as ahead of the curve on social issues is Oregon's "death with dignity act," which was passed by the voters twice, in 1994 and again in 1997.

Finally, in 1998 Oregonians adopted by a wide margin a proposal which allowed voting in all future primary and general elections to be done through the mail.

All of these measures were controversial but now enjoy widespread support in this state because they have proven very effective.

One of the selling points on the vote-by-mail system when it was presented to the voters is that it would increase participation in state elections. The program has delivered on this promise as Oregon now regularly posts some of the highest voter turnout figures in the nation, typically by 10 percent or more above the national average.

Voting by mail also saves Oregon money, is easier on election officials, and increases the quality of votes because people have more time to sit down and study the issues. By all accounts it is far superior to polling systems in place in other states, like Florida, for example, which have been riddled with allegations of fraud and abuse.

Oregon could improve its system if the estimated $3 million savings in administration were reinvested in return postage for its ballots. This would further reduce barriers to the electoral process and increase voter turnout.

In some states political parties are paying up to $35 per voter to get out the vote. For mere pennies Oregon could accomplish the same thing. That seems to us a small price to pay to protect our democratic franchise. R.S.

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