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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Ballot failure results in delays in vote-by-mail pioneer, Oregon

OREGON CITY, Oregon — Thousands of ballots with blurry barcodes that can’t be read by counting machines will delay results in a major US House race in Oregon’s primary election for weeks, a startling development that is giving a black eye Leading vote-by-mail state with a national reputation as a leader on voter access and equality.

The nuisance affects 60,000 ballots, or two-thirds of the nearly 90,000 returned so far in Oregon’s third-largest county. Hundreds of ballots were still coming in under a new law that allows them to be counted as long as they are postmarked on Election Day, and 200 Clackamas County employees redeployed to deal with the crisis. After being done Thursday was getting a crash course in vote-counting.

Election workers must pull faulty ballots from batches of 125, transfer voter intent to a new ballot, then double-check their entries—a painstaking process that could pull the election out until June 13, when Oregon casts its vote. certifies. Workers work in pairs, one Democrat and one Republican, in two shifts of 11 hours a day.

Voters from both political parties would move around in a narrow room with windows that allowed workers to open ballots, transfer votes, review flagged ballots and use counting machines. He expressed surprise at the error and anger at the slow response by elections clerk Sherry Hall, who has been in office for nearly 20 years. By Wednesday night, the count of workers had gone up to 15,649.

“It blows my mind,” said Clackamas County voter Ron Smith. “It’s a little suspicious. That’s why here I am. … Whatever’s happening, we don’t need any extra doubts. It looks like something like this must have been properly tested at the beginning of this whole process.”

Observer speaks with Clackamas County Elections Clerk Sherry Hall, right, as election workers review ballots Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Oregon City, Ore.
Associated Press

The debacle has stunned Oregon, where all ballots have only been cast by mail for 23 years and lawmakers have relentlessly pushed for expanding voter access through automatic voter registration, extended deadlines and other measures. It has also called into question a major US House race in the remodeled district that includes a large portion of Clackamas County, from the liberal southern suburbs of Portland to the rural conservative communities on the fringes of Mount Hood, about 2,000 square miles. extends to.

In the Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, seven-time Representative Kurt Schrader was trailing in the vote by Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a moderate, progressive challenger. The result in November could have wide-ranging implications, with the possibility that voters could switch seats for the GOP.

Hall said the problem came to the fore on May 3, when activists cast the first ballot returned through the counting machine. About 70 or 80 ballots from each batch of 125 were spit out as unreadable because their barcodes were too faint and a bit blurry. He said it was too late to print and mail the new ballots.

As election day drew near and the ballots piled up, Hall said he allowed election workers to take the weekend off because only three people signed up to work on a Saturday or Sunday. “We have mostly people between the ages of 70 and 85” and they need rest, she said.

An Election Worker Checks A Ballot At The Clackamas County Election Office.
An election worker checks a ballot at the Clackamas County Election Office.
Associated Press

The secretary of state’s office said Hall declined help, saying Clackamas County could handle the situation. Hall told The Associated Press that a week after the ballot problem surfaced on May 11, several county workers were assigned to him.

Cathy Selvaggio, who lives in the county’s more urban and affluent suburbs, peeped through windows Thursday to see the vote tally.

“Mail-in voting works, it works well here, but it undermines my faith in[Hall],” said Selvagio, who was there as a volunteer for the McLeod-Skinner campaign.

Hall said his department has discussed running test ballots from the printer before the mail is out, but his office had used the printer for 10 years with no problems.

Hall, who was re-elected in November, told the Associated Press, “There are many other things to do.” “I hate the fact that this happened to our ballots. It’s awful. We need to build trust with voters and it’s not a credible piece, but we’re doing what we can.”

This is not the first time Hall has come under criticism for his electoral role. In 2012, a provisional election worker was sentenced to 90 days in prison for tampering with two ballots. In 2014, Hall was criticized for using the phrase “Democratic Party” – a derogatory term used by Republicans to demean Democrats – on a primary ballot rather than the Democratic Party.

Clackamas County Elections Clerk Sherry Hall Speaks At The Office On Thursday, May 19, 2022, In Oregon City, Ore.
Clackamas County Elections Clerk Sherry Hall speaks at the office on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Oregon City, Ore.
Associated Press

Oregon Secretary of State Shemea Fagan said she was “deeply concerned” by the most recent situation and her office issued a statement Tuesday calling the delay “unacceptable.” But state election officials said Thursday that they have little authority over local county election officials.

“The independence of county clerks is an important part of the electoral system and for now we are focused on supporting them,” agency spokesman Ben Morris said.

State law does not require county election officials to run proof ballots through their machines before mailing them.

Christopher Stout, an associate professor of political science at Oregon State University, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see legislation to change this.

“I think all these problems are, of course, worse in the short term,” he said. “But in the long term, they will lead to improvement, because people will see those things are problems and they will find ways to make it better.”

Former Oregon House Minority Leader Christine Drazon was watching the results from across the state on Tuesday night. She was eventually declared the winner of the GOP gubernatorial primary the next night.

“I understood on election night that Clackamas County knew it was going to be a challenge,” Drazen said. “So the fact that we weren’t quite there on election night was just a fact that we had to accept and know more about how the county was going to react to that.”

He said voters concerned about the integrity of the process should see it in person.

“It should have been addressed with this level of urgency earlier, but it’s very rare to have a printing problem like this,” Drazen said.

World Nation News Desk
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