Oregon Legal Groups Say Armed Militia Intimidated Lane County Voters at the Ballot Box

"The voter was concerned for his safety and, rather than proceeding to the drop box, instead left without depositing his ballot.”

A right-wing protester in Delta Park on Sept. 26, 2020. (Alex Wittwer)
Voters in Lane County reported to an election hotline that armed militia groups turned them away at an unofficial checkpoint when they tried to drop ballots in a box over the weekend, according to a letter sent out Nov. 2 by six Oregon legal groups.

The letter, signed by six legal leaders in Oregon, including Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, and Eric Ward, executive director of Western States Center, alleges that vigilante groups established a checkpoint near a ballot drop box in Lane County, and that at least two residents made concerned calls to an election hotline to report it.

During an unrelated press conference Monday, Oregon State Police Superintendent Terri Davie acknowledged reports about the alleged checkpoint but declined to provide further information. According to hotline callers, the letter says, several voters were afraid for their safety and proceeded to turn around instead of dropping off their ballots.

"When one voter attempted to drive to the ballot drop box, the trucks at issue were parked such that they were on either side of his car," the letter says. "The individuals from the trucks asked him to roll down his window and asked where he was going. The voter was concerned for his safety and, rather than proceeding to the drop box, instead left without depositing his ballot."

Lane County, about two hours south of Portland by car, covers a lot of territory. It stretches from college town Eugene to Florence on the Oregon Coast, with rugged timber country in between.

The letter, sent to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Secretary of State Bev Clarno, asks Oregon officials to protect ballot drop-off sites and reiterate the illegality of voter intimidation.

"Your offices all share a role in enforcing these laws and ensuring voters a peaceful opportunity to vote, free from intimidation," the letter says. "Absent prompt action from your offices, voters in these situations will have no choice but to subject themselves to this illegal activity if they want to cast their votes. These incidents are unlawful, and call out for swift corrective action."

In a letter responding to the legal groups, Rosenblum said she has been made aware of the incident in Lane County, and that it appears a political group was granted a permit for a political rally in a park where a ballot box is situated. Rosenblum wrote that local officials were present at the event, and that they claimed to be "specifically focused on ensuring that access to the ballot drop box remained open."

"However, there appears to be distinctly differing views regarding the conduct of those in vans near the drop box who were attending the rally," Rosenblum wrote. "Voter intimidation is illegal in Oregon. Whatever the specific facts pertaining to this event turn out to be, the existence of armed people in the vicinity of a ballot drop box is rightly alarming and I completely understand why voters would be fearful."

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