January 5th, 2010 | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics

League of Women Voters Files Elections Complaint Against Mark Nelson

OregonCapitol

The Oregon League of Women Voters today filed an elections complaint [PDF] with Oregon's Secretary of State and Department of Justice against Mark Nelson, the Salem lobbyist who's the campaign manager for opponents of two tax increase measures on the January ballot.

As WW reported last month, Nelson has been mailing out "surveys" to voters that are replicas of the actual ballots they will begin receiving Jan. 8 on Measures 66 and 67. The complaint, filed by LWV Oregon President Marge Easley, alleges that Nelson's mock ballots are an attempt to confuse voters and drive down voter participation. Easley writes,
Because the legitimate Oregon Special Election ballots are scheduled to begin arriving this week, I have serious concerns that these imitation ballots are meant to cause confusion that could ultimately drive down voter turnout.

Under Oregon's election laws, it is illegal to circulate an imitation of a ballot, or a sample ballot, unless it “contains the following statement in bold type: “NOT FOR OFFICIAL USE.” ORS 260.695(1). Nelson's imitation ballot does not contain that specific language; instead, it has a different disclaimer than the one required by Oregon law. That disclaimer is in normal type, not bold type, and is much lighter than all the bold type around it. The document clearly violates the letter of the law.

Far worse than the technical violation, the League believes that Nelson's imitation ballot clearly violates the spirit of the law. Nelson's ballot appears intended to confuse voters. At the bottom of the imitation ballot, Nelson refers to it as an actual “ballot.” The statement at the bottom of the page tells recipients to “place your completed ballot in the enclosed postage-paid envelope and mail it promptly.” (Emphasis added). Voters easily could be led to believe that the document received from Nelson is a “ballot.” Voter confusion also could be caused by the question at the bottom of the document: “Have you already voted by mail?” (Emphasis added). This sentence, when read together with the “return your ballot” language strongly implies that by completing Nelson's document, the voter is actually voting on the ballot measures. But what happens when a voter's legitimate ballot arrives in the mail? I believe that many voters will think they've already voted and will discard their legitimate ballot to avoid breaking the law against voting more than once.

Nelson says he's read the complaint and is bemused by it. "It's interesting that when we are on the same side of the campaign against term limits [2006], the League of Women Voters didn't object to my using a similar ballot then," Nelson says. "It was just fine then. But now it's not."

Nelson says he will send out about 110,000 mail surveys in the form of ballots. He says the technique was developed by the Gallup Organization and provides more accurate information for his clients than telephone surveys. He adds that the ballots he sends out contain demographic questions which real ballots do not. And he says his surveys come with an envelope that is different in size and color than the envelope with the official state ballot.

"Our surveys can't be confused with a real ballot," Nelson says.
 
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