Budget Items, Elections, Voters’ Pamphlet and Minority Outreach
Yesterday, Steve Trout, Director of Elections, and I testified in a budget hearing before the Ways and Means Subcommittee on General Government. It is disappointing to see how our testimony has been misrepresented online and in social media, so I’m taking the time to set the record straight.
MYTH: Dennis Richardson is going to stop printing Voters’ Pamphlets.
FACT: In the testimony, Director Trout explained that the Voters’ Pamphlet is required by law. However, if the Secretary of State's office experiences significant budget cuts, the number of copies printed could be drastically reduced. If we had to prioritize electoral functions, printing ballots is the first order of magnitude so that every voter who is eligible to vote can vote. But we believe the Voters’ Pamphlet is essential to that process. Legislative budget cuts to our agency would jeopardize our ability to make sure voters don’t just get a ballot, but that they’re informed.
It’s worth mentioning that budget proposals in 2009-2011, 2011-2013, and 2015-2017 all contained the same warning. Former Secretaries of State Kate Brown and Jeanne P. Atkins used this same example of what could happen if the Secretary of State budget is cut.
See page 92 below from the 2015 budget cycle: https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2015R1/Downloads/CommitteeMeetingDocument/48464
There is NO intention to stop printing the Voters’ Pamphlet. Oregon statutes require a Voters’ Pamphlet to be printed and mailed to every voting household. However, doing so costs money and it is up to the legislature to ensure we have enough money to run effective elections. Our testimony was to ensure legislators fully understand the statutory requirements. I believe I will be provided the resources to accomplish my constitutional and statutory responsibilities.
Further, removing the requirement to print the Voters’ Pamphlet would require legislative action and the public would have a chance to weigh in if such a change in policy and procedure were being contemplated. Our office would not support such a policy.
MYTH: Dennis Richardson is firing voter outreach staff because he doesn’t want fair elections.
FACT: More than a decade ago, the federal government provided several million dollars to help fund the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). This is one-time money intended to provide centralized elections data and easier access for voters to vote. To implement the HAVA requirements costs Oregon more than $1.5 million dollars a year. Oregon has only $5 million left in federal HAVA funds.
To help conserve those dollars for the mandatory software and equipment costs that will help us modernize our elections, I asked Director Trout to review our staffing situation and see if we could make adjustments that would save HAVA dollars without jeopardizing the level of service we give to voters with disabilities and others intended to benefit from HAVA.
Director Trout was able to accomplish this goal, which resulted in transferring two individuals who were being paid with HAVA dollars to other positions within the Elections Division, and two other HAVA dollar positions were eliminated.
Voter Outreach Efforts Expanding
I’m also pleased to report that under my leadership as Secretary of State, we have expanded our work to reach out to populations of minorities that are often overlooked or ignored. As Secretary of State, I have created the new position, Citizen Outreach and Inclusion Coordinator.
Larry Morgan, the youngest and first African-American member of the Troutdale City Council, is serving in that position. With Larry’s assistance the Secretary of State’s office has joined with the Urban League of Portland in co-hosting an event in north Portland celebrating Oregon Black History Month, and I recently attended and contributed to the excellent efforts of Portland’s Black Parent Initiative. We are also working to better serve those for whom English is not a first language by expanding the online availability of future Voters’ Pamphlets in languages other than English.
In summary, there is no intention to stop printing the Voters’ Pamphlet; there will be no reduction in Elections Division’s services while we conserve HAVA dollars; and, our outreach efforts are expanding. We hope our efforts will be worthy of national recognition as Oregon continues to be a leader in fair, transparent, and accessible elections.
It is an honor serving as your Secretary of State. There is much to be done, and we have only just begun our out-reach efforts.