Don Hamilton

Don Hamilton, a former political writer for The Oregonian, lives and votes in Portland

Recent Articles

Kitchen-Table Democracy

Here's what Election Day will look like in Oregon this fall. Most of the voting will not take place on Election Day at all but probably sometime in October. It's after dinner and the family gathers around the kitchen table to vote. Mom and dad, maybe with children old enough to be interested, get out the Voters' Pamphlet and a few newspaper articles and mark their ballots. The discussion starts. What do you think of this candidate? What about that measure? Item by item, ballots are marked and then either mailed or set aside half-finished to allow a little more time to think. This is democracy at the kitchen table, not the polling place. Joining the neighbors in the polling place, that beloved public statement of civic virtue, is gone. But while Oregon lost this Norman Rockwell imagery, it has adopted new civic rituals of its own. And nothing is more iconic to the Oregon vote-by-mail experience than the family gathered around the kitchen table to hash out the issues. No criticism of...

The Oregon Voting Revolution

How a vote-by-mail experiment transformed the democratic process.

Oregon's vote-by-mail system came of age on a cold, drizzly night in January 1996. It was the night of the special election to replace the disgraced Bob Packwood in the U.S. Senate with Gordon Smith, the charismatic Republican vegetable farmer from eastern Oregon, facing Ron Wyden, the wonkish Democratic congressman from Portland. It was a classic match up of the two men who, as it turned out, would both represent Oregon in the Senate for the next decade after Smith won the state's other seat in November 1996. This night, famously, was the first Senate election conducted entirely by mail. Oregon's vote-by-mail experiment, which started quietly in 1981 with local races, was facing its biggest test yet. It finally reached prime time. By most measures, this was going to be Smith's night. The polls looked good and they had momentum, so his campaign blew up balloons, hired a band, and drew several hundred supporters to the ornate third-floor ballroom at the Governor Hotel in downtown...