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Deschutes County sees voter registration jump since 2016, but drop in ballot returns

(Update: Adding video, comments by county clerk)

COVID-19 may have been May primary factor; wildfires may have affect now

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day, aimed at raising awareness of voter registration opportunities ahead of the big fall election.

Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship tells NewsChannel 21 there are now more than 147,000 registered voters in the county, a nearly 19% increase from November 2016, when there were about 123,000.

Blankenship said even with a rise in voters, another trend she noticed in the past four years is a decrease in voter participation.

She said in May 2016, 24% of voters in the youngest age group, 18-24, returned their ballots for the primary election. This year, Blankenship said, the percentage of ballot returns for that age group dropped to 19%.

On the other end of the age spectrum, there were 70% of ballot returns for the age group 55 and older in the 2016 primary. This year, 65% returned their ballots for that election.

Blankenship said the COVID-19 pandemic may have been a contributing factor.

“It was a very quiet season this last May -- had very few phone calls, few personal interactions," she said.

She said with the recent wildfires, displaced voters may also play a role in this year's election. Blankenship said a voter who is no longer at their previous residence for any reason should update their mailing address online.

According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, 2.87 million Oregonians are currently registered to vote — a 2.74% increase from last year, as of August. 

Changes in Deschutes County voter registration by party and House district dating back to 2006 can be found in a report at the Deschutes County Clerk's Office website.

As of the end of August, the county's registered Democrats edged Republicans, 45,231 to 43,880 -- but the ranks of non-affiliated voters eclipsed both, at 45,786.

Oregon's "motor voter" law automatically registers those who get a new driver's license as non-affiliated voters, unless they choose otherwise.

The county's next-highest tally, the Independent Party, had 8,112 registered voters and 1,164 voters were registered as Libertarians.

By comparison, in November 2016, the county had 41,494 registered Republicans, 38,893 registered Democrats and 32,026 voters who were not affiliated with a party. The Independent Party had 7,742 registered voters and 1,015 were registered as Libertarians.

News release from Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno:

It's National Voter Registration Day: Are You Registered to Vote?
SALEM, OR — Today, September 22, is National Voter Registration Day. Today’s goal is to raise awareness of voter registration opportunities and register as many eligible voters as possible.

National Voter Registration Day has the support of thousands of elections and public officials from local, state, and federal organizations and individuals from the entire political spectrum.

Oregon remains a national leader in registering eligible voters. As of August 2020, 2.87 million Oregonians are currently registered to vote — a 2.74% increase from last year.

The General Election coming up in November is of great interest to many people. The deadline to register to vote and receive a ballot for this election is Tuesday October 13. All those who are registered by this date will automatically have a ballot mailed to them starting October 14.

There is no need to request that a ballot be sent to you. Voters can register to vote at Even if you are already registered to vote, it is a good idea to check your voter registration to ensure your mailing address is up to date. You can do that at It just takes a couple minutes.

“This has been a challenging year for Oregon, but I know Oregonians are as committed as ever to participating in our elections,” said Secretary of State Bev Clarno. “I strongly urge all Oregonians to take this time to register and ensure their voices will be heard this November.”

There will be many groups trying to register voters today and in the coming weeks. While some are well-intentioned, others may take advantage of the opportunity to get your personal information. The best way to ensure your registration counts, and your information remains secure, is to use the official Oregon Secretary of State website:
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Rhea Panela

Rhea Panela is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Rhea here.


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