John Laird: Your ballot made a long trip; don't you dare ignore it

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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Many moons have passed since my last scoop, but I suspect the following is an exclusive, brought to you by the investigative work of the fine folks at Trivia Only Laird Cares About, Inc.

Here's the inside skinny: Sometime tomorrow -- Monday, Oct. 15 -- a United States Postal Service truck is scheduled to visit Signature Graphics in Northeast Portland and pick up 40 pallets weighing 18,088 pounds. The truck will embark on a 5-mile trip to a postal processing center near Portland International Airport.

The cargo will include 231,896 documents that were printed by Reprographics Printing and Digital Services in Longview, then sent to Signature Graphics in Portland for preparation. The first job cost about $85,000, the second about $12,000.

Here's where the plot thickens:

Those documents, though printed in Cowlitz County and mailed from Multnomah County, represent the political destiny of our beloved Clark County. They are the ballots for our Nov. 6 election.

You might wonder why no local firms were used for this work. Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey told me Friday that the jobs were put out to bid and no local responses were received.

You might also wonder why the ballots will be mailed 22 days before the election, when the law only stipulates 20 days. Local elections officials wanted to avoid the kind of mail-crush problems they encountered a few years ago. They've learned that, when the Clark County ballots are taken to that postal center at PDX, they're likely to bump up against millions of other ballots from Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington and other counties in two states.

This year, Clark County officials decided to get a two-day head start and avoid the blitz of ballots at the airport. Voters here will probably start receiving their ballots by mail on Wednesday. The law only requires ballots to be mailed within 20 days of the election; theoretically, they could be mailed 40 days in advance. But elections officials understand one basic law of human nature: The longer stuff is left around the house, the greater is the chance it will be ignored forever.

Don't let these people down

One would think that, after all this work by these great people to deliver your ballots (and after all the research I did last week for Trivia Only Laird Cares About, Inc.), the least you could do is fill out your ballot and mail it back in.

This doesn't mean I subscribe to the clichéd threat, "If you don't vote, you can't complain." To the contrary, I never agreed with that hackneyed dictum. In America, you can complain all you want, vote or no vote. But a lot of people are working behind the scenes, trying to help you. That document deserves your attention.

Here's another group that might inspire you: More than 900 ballots are being emailed from Clark County to military and overseas voters. Although Internet voting is still several years away (the Postal Service could become extinct, you know), there already is a high-tech voting system in place that serves these military and overseas voters.

Each one will be able to print out a PDF of the ballot, mark the votes and sign the ballot affidavit. Then the voter can scan both documents and email it back to the elections office. Almost 100 people from Clark County already have returned their Nov. 6 ballots this way. Ultimately, as many as 500 will vote in such a manner.

Meanwhile, in the comforts of our homes, voting could hardly be easier. In fact, some traditionalists say it's too easy, and they've got a pretty good point. Gone are the days when we visited a polling place on Election Day, traded howdy-do's with our neighbors, proudly applied the "I Voted" stickers to our lapels and felt more American for all of it.

But times change, and so do attitudes. I like the idea of sharing my ballot with family members, telling them exactly how to vote, then hearing them tell me what I can do with my ballot. It's the new American tradition, the polar opposite of "Father Knows Best."

Have a happy election season, and don't forget to flex your freedom.