Senator speaks with citizens

More than 75 people gathered at the Oregon Coast Community College campus in Newport on Wednesday night to speak with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden about topics important to Lincoln County residents. (Photo by Stephanie Blair)

Wyden talks election security, mail-in ballots and young voters in Newport

NEWPORT — U.S. Senator Ron Wyden held his 35th town hall meeting of the year at the Oregon Coast Community College’s central county campus in Newport. This was the second time the senator had spoken in Lincoln County in 2019, and he strolled into the meeting looking decidedly Oregonian: in a green raincoat and a pair of Nikes.

Though the topics around the room varied based on the question-asker’s priorities, there were a few repeated threads.

Multiple audience members asked Wyden how to get the younger generations involved and voting, stating that those under 45 don’t seem to be backing any candidates or getting involved in the election. Wyden disagreed. Though the senator stated that he wouldn’t speak to the individual merits of the many Democratic candidates, he listed many issues that younger demographics are showing immense concern about — including climate change, health care and reproductive rights.

Wyden said that young people are concerned about “practically all of these economic issues, like jobs and health care and — I mentioned the tax bill … that’s not really a tax cut at all. And I tell people, it’s a shift. It’s a shift onto them.”

The senator also spoke repeatedly throughout the evening about the importance of election security. This was the common thread that tied most of his answers together through the meeting.

When asked how he gets out of bed each day and continues to go to work doing what he does, and asked what advice he has for those who are becoming discouraged, Wyden answered without hesitation: “I just think that this is too important of a time to just sit on the sidelines.”

The senator went on to explain that he had recently been at a white-hat hacker conference in Las Vegas, where he saw 23 and 24 year olds display just how easy it is to hack a voting machine. He told the crowd that he would have liked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to walk the showroom floor with him to see that, and stated that McConnell is “singularly blocking election security reform.”

As for individual involvement, Wyden has a clear request.

“What I’m asking people to do,” said Wyden, “is to be part of an election security Paul Revere brigade … call all of your friends, and tell them to talk to all of their elected officials — federal, state, local — and tell them to get off the dime and get serious about election security.”

When someone asked about the possibility of taking Oregon’s vote-by-mail system national, Wyden responded that he has introduced a bill to do so. The very next question was whether Wyden trusted the way Oregon counted its ballots.

“I think Oregon has a system that is, by and large, is really the gold standard,” said Wyden. “We have hand-marked paper ballots, I have not seen any evidence that county officials are allowing their networks to be hooked up to the internet … one area that my proposal, my bill will help with, is they really don’t have the funds (to run) risk-limiting audits.”

At the end of his allotted time, the senator forwent a long speech and simply said that he hoped those in attendance, regardless of whether they agreed with him on everything, saw that this was what the founding fathers intended: an open-to-all meeting with their legislator.

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