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Voting fight simmering in Oregon

Associated Press

PORTLAND – Democrats accused Republicans on Sunday of trying to block thousands of young people’s votes, following a formal request by GOP lawyers to review ballots cast by first-time voters in Oregon’s most populous county.

In a letter issued Friday, attorneys for the Oregon Republican Party demanded that officials set aside ballots cast by new voters in Multnomah County who have not provided proof of identification.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said the Republican demand flies in the face of Oregon law, which does not require voters to show proof of identification when registering.

“This is not Florida. We are about empowering citizens,” said Wyden, who helped draft the relevant portion of Oregon’s election law.

Statewide, 207,053 first-time voters registered after May, and 73,226 of them are under the age of 25, according to numbers provided by Sunlight Data Systems, a database manager working for groups backing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Twenty percent of the new voters live in Multnomah County, home to liberal Portland.

“They are, in effect, asking this county to change the rules 14 days into our 18-day election,” said Tim Nesbitt, the pro-Kerry president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. “Think of one team trying to change the rules late in a ballgame and applying those new rules only on its opponents’ home field,” he said.

After the voting controversy in Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, aimed at curbing voting irregularities. One of its provisions was a requirement that voters show proof of identification when voting.

Oregon’s congressional delegation took issue with that requirement because of Oregon’s unique vote-by-mail system, which previously had allowed citizens to simply send in their ballots.

The bipartisan “Oregon compromise,” drafted by Wyden and Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, added language that created an exception for Oregon as a way to preserve its vote-by-mail system.

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