Electing a Mail-Order Senator Oregon to Sponsor Nation's First Mail-In Ballot for a Member of Congress Series: The Liberal Oregon Democrat, Who Jumped into the Race Last Week, Is Expected to Gain Backing from Groups Eager to Seat More Women in the Senate., JACK SMITH/AP/FILE
Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
OREGON has long been known as "a laboratory of reform," as the
Almanac of American Politics puts it.
The first state to institute ballot initiative, referendum, and
recall, it has also led on such politically touchy issues as
statewide land-use planning and the legalization of
Now, with the need to replace disgraced United States Sen. Bob
Packwood (R), Oregon is pressing toward yet another first:
nominating and electing a member of Congress by mail-in ballot.
In response to the unanimous recommendation of the Senate Ethics
Committee that the five-term lawmaker be expelled for sexual and
official misconduct, Mr. Packwood has agreed to resign Oct. 1.
Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) announced last week that a special party
primary will be held Dec. 5. A special election to fill Packwood's
slot will follow on Jan. 30.
"We have a unique opportunity with this special election to
reaffirm one of democracy's most basic principles: That government
is best which is governed by the most," says Oregon Secretary of
State Phil Keisling. The state has been holding mail-in elections
on local issues since 1981, and the turnout in such cases typically
is higher than those where voters go to the polls.
Oregonians are known as independent-minded voters, historically
choosing a mix of Republicans and Democrats for state and national
But the timing of the elections, the fact that they will be by
mail, and the lineup of declared candidates all seem to benefit
Democrats - at least at the beginning of the race.
"The election to replace Packwood is likely to be a high-profile
election with a high-voter turnout ... favoring Democratic or
independent candidates," observes longtime political commentator
At the same time, Oregonians (who line up 43 percent Democrat, 37
percent Republican, and 21 percent independent or minor-party
members) have been electing only Republican US senators since 1968,
when Packwood ousted four-term veteran Wayne Morse (D).
All of this should make for a lively campaign, including what
observers say is likely to be a strong showing by female candidates
from both parties. …