Oregon is justifiably proud of its work to remove barriers to voting: Consider the state's efforts to register voters via contact with the Department of Motor Vehicles. And it's only a matter of time until other states really start paying attention to the state's vote-by-mail system as a way to not just boost voter turnout but also to thwart potential cyberattacks.
So, in some ways, Gov. Kate Brown's testimony to the Legislature this week about removing another possible barrier to voting — having the state foot the bill for prepaid postage on mail-in ballots — is part of that tradition.
And if the state were flush with cash, the estimated cost of doing this ($1.5 million to $3 million) likely would be worth the investment, because Brown has a point: There almost certainly are some ballots that don't get mailed for want of a postage stamp. (Of course, you don't need a postage stamp to return a ballot; you can drop your ballot off at any of the boxes scattered through Oregon, although it is true that access to those boxes can be a problem, especially in rural parts of the state.)
But here's the bottom line: The state is not flush with cash. In fact, the first draft of the budget released last week by the chairs of the Legislature's Ways and Means Committee called for a 5 percent cut in most state programs, with the exception of K-12 education and the Oregon Health Plan, the state's version of Medicaid. (And K-12 officials said that the amount the budget allocated for schools was woefully inadequate.)
It is true that in a budget that clocks in at about $23.2 billion for a two-year period, that amount of money for postage-paid ballots isn't that big a deal. But it does represent a million or two that's not available for, well, anything else — an existing program that's facing some sharp cuts, to list just one example.
It was telling, then, that Speaker of the House Tina Kotek was decidedly cool to Brown's pitch: "The question is: Will we have money for it at the end of the day?" she told reporters on Monday. "I don't know." As she spoke those words, you could all but see her move the proposal over to her "nice-to-have" list.
In the meantime, if the state's political officials want to do their part to ensure wide interest and big turnout in the next election, here's a suggestion: recruit candidates who can make compelling cases to voters. The desire to vote for a candidate can make the distance to the nearest ballot box seem much shorter. (mm)
Today is National Ag Day (it's also National Ag Week) and so it's worth taking a moment to pay tribute to the hard-working men and women who help put food on your table.
And we're indebted to our friends at the Oregon Farm Bureau, who shared these facts about agriculture in the state:
• The vast majority (97 percent) of Oregon's farms and ranches are family owned and operated.
• Oregon farmers and ranchers produce more than 225 different crops and livestock, making Oregon one of the most diverse agricultural states in the nation.
• Oregon is the nation's top supplier of blackberries, boysenberries and hazelnut. It's also No. 1 for Christmas trees, rhubarb, potted azaleas, crimson clover, sugar beet for seeds and a few grass seed varieties.
• Not only is agriculture one of the pillars of the state's economy, it's been that way for more than a century: The Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program reports that 1,212 farms and ranches have achieved century status for being in operation more than 100 years. Some 41 farms and ranches have hit the 150-year mark.
• One U.S. farm feeds about 168 people on average. You've almost certainly eaten something in the last day or two that was grown or raised in Oregon. Today, you could mutter a word of thanks as you settle down to a meal. (mm)