U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Oregon lawsuit that sought to end mail voting

Marion County election workers
Marion County election workers
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The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a lawsuit that sought to end mail voting in Oregon. Here, election workers in Marion County prepared to process returned ballots from the 2022 primary. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

On the eve of Oregon’s primary election, a group of Republican candidates and election deniers learned they won’t get to make their case to the U.S. Supreme Court to end Oregon’s mail voting system. 

The high court on Monday declined to hear an appeal from plaintiffs, including state Sen. Dennis Linthicum, the leading Republican candidate for secretary of state, in a case that sought to overturn the method Oregon voters have used to vote in every election for decades. 

The Supreme Court didn’t give a reason for declining to hear the case, Thielman v. Fagan. Marc Thielman, a former school superintendent who captured 8% of the vote in his sixth-place finish in the 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary, led several other Republicans in suing then-Secretary of State Shemia Fagan in October 2022. 

Current Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade, appointed after Fagan’s 2023 resignation, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision in a statement to the Capital Chronicle.

“Both the rulings from the District Court and the Ninth Circuit got it right: Oregon’s vote by mail system is the gold standard with no widespread voter fraud to speak of,” she said. “I’m very pleased to see the Supreme Court leave the lower courts’ ruling in place.”

The lawsuit claimed – without providing any evidence – that Oregon voters have been disenfranchised by “voting anomalies.” The bulk of the suit rested on “2,000 Mules,” a 2022 film from far-right commentator Dinesh D’Souza that purported to show that people in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin delivered multiple ballots to drop boxes. The film doesn’t include Oregon, and election experts have debunked its claims. 

They sought injunctions blocking Oregon from using mail voting and preventing ballots from being counted by tabulation machines, which are faster and more reliable than hand counting. U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman dismissed the suit last summer, writing that “generalized grievances” about the state’s election system didn’t give Thielman, Linthicum and others standing to sue. 

Ninth Circuit decision

A three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Beckerman’s ruling in December. Judges Marsha Berzon, Jacqueline Nguyen and Eric D. Miller wrote that the case resembled a recent Ninth Circuit ruling rejecting arguments from 2022 Arizona Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake speculating that the state’s election system was vulnerable.

“Plaintiffs do not allege that their votes were not counted, nor do they identify with sufficient particularity how any given election in Oregon was fraudulently manipulated through the vote-by-mail or computerized tabulation systems,” the panel wrote. “Indeed, plaintiffs concede that they do not know whether Oregon elections are fraudulently manipulated at all. Plaintiffs allege only that they suffer a ‘crisis of confidence’ in Oregon’s voting systems, which is the same ‘speculative’ grievance that we found insufficient to confer standing in Lake.” 

Like Lake in Arizona, several of the Oregon plaintiffs were unsuccessful candidates. Thielman lost his gubernatorial bid, Ben Edtl and Sandra Nelson lost legislative races and Diane Rich and Pam Lewis lost local elections in Coos County. Linthicum, Edtl and Nelson will appear on Republican ballots again this year, with Edtl and Nelson running for the state House and Linthicum running for secretary of state, the office in charge of running elections. 

Stephen Joncus, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called the Supreme Court’s decision “very disappointing,” and said he’ll continue fighting against Oregon’s electoral system. 

“Vote by mail is an abomination, and we will fight it every possible way we can,” he said. 

A survey conducted shortly before the 2022 election found that a majority of Oregonians consider their state the best or one of the best in the country at running elections, while 69% of all Oregon voters – and 49% of Republican voters – said they were confident in the safety, integrity and accuracy of voting by mail. 

Updated at 9 p.m. May 20 with a quote from Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade.

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