Turnout Surged in Final Days as Oregon Voters Continued Trend of Voting Late

Despite voter pessimism, the number of ballots cast smashes midterm primary record.

For most of the past two weeks, the story of the May 17 primary has focused on voter discontent as measured by a variety of polls. But Oregonians turned in a massive number of ballots in the last two days of the election, with more ballots postmarked on Election Day still to arrive.

That continues the recent trend of voters hanging on to their ballots until the last minute. Here, drawn from statistics compiled by the Oregon secretary of state’s Elections Division, is the percentage of ballots turned in in the last two days of the past five midterm primary elections:

2006 39%

2010 43%

2014 43%

2018 46%

2022 49% (so far; some ballots are still in the mail)

That looks like a tidy trend. It would look less neat if the 2002 midterm election were included (50%). It is unclear what happened that year.

The second point worth making about ballot returns is that the absolute number of ballots that elections officials have received so far (978,224) is 75,000 more than have ever been cast in an Oregon midterm primary. That will grow because this is the first election in which officials will count ballots postmarked right up through election day.

Yet because the number of registered voters continues to increase due to automatic registration, the percentage of voters casting ballots (33.2% currently) looks low. That’s because most newly registered voters are not affiliated with any party and vote at a much lower rate (13.1% so far) than Republicans (47.1% so far) or Democrats (44.9% so far).

Here’s what voter turnout has looked like in the 21st century (note that it is higher in presidential election years).