Oregon’s “Procrastination Vote”

On normal election nights, results start trickling in when polls close, but it sometimes takes hours for enough precincts to report that you can declare a winner. You end up waiting for areas like Gary, Ind., to get their act together and report. As a result, the early returns often skew toward one candidate or another, only to reverse later in the night.

But tonight, we’re told, things will be different. Oregon conducts its primary using entirely mail-in ballots , which means more than half of the results should be in by the time polls close at 11 p.m. ET. So even though the time difference will keep East Coasters up late, it probably won’t take long to announce a winner.

That doesn’t mean early results won’t be skewed early on. It just means the bias won’t be geographic. (In Indiana, Gary was a known Obama stronghold, which meant that networks couldn’t call the state for Clinton until that city had reported.) Rather, the last votes will come from people who turned in their ballots in person Monday or Tuesday instead of mailing them in soon after May 1, when they were sent out. In other words, the procrastinators.

Procrastinators, needless to say, tend to be younger than their early-mailing counterparts, which suggests that last-minute voters will likely skew slightly toward Obama. “If [the margin] comes out Obama in the first flush, I think it will grow,” says Phil Keisling, former Oregon secretary of state and a strong advocate of mail-in voting.

Some counties are more likely to procrastinate than others. Multnomah County, the state’s largest county, happens to include Portland, the state’s slacker capital. (Eugene, Ore., comes in a close second.) “They take longer to get their ballots in,” says Scott Moore, a spokesman for the Oregon secretary of state.

But when it comes to voting, procrastination can be a goodthing. “It’s a smart procrastinator vote,” Keisling said. In 2004, there wereeight Democratic races on the Oregon ballot ( PDF ), plus a couple dozen non-partisan offices. The mail-in system lets voters take their time learning aboutthe various races, rather than hastily circling names they see for the firsttime on election day.