Pressure mounts after Oregon primary election fiasco
OREGON CITY, Oregon.
A Democratic Oregon state lawmaker is calling for an investigation into a ballot printing fiasco that will delay Tuesday’s primary results by weeks, with a key U.S. House race in game in a state that prides itself on voter access and election transparency.
Tens of thousands of ballots in the state’s third-largest county were printed with blurry barcodes, rendering them unreadable by vote-counting machines – a mistake that went undetected until the ballots were not already returned to the state of the vote by mail. Election workers now have to manually transfer votes from those ballots to new ones that can be read in a painstaking process that also raises the possibility of duplication errors.
As the scale of the crisis became apparent, local, state and federal lawmakers all stepped up their criticism on Friday of Clackamas County Election Clerk Sherry Hall, who defended her actions at a conference release on Friday and said she learned from her mistakes.
State Rep. Janelle Bynum, who represents voters in the county, called the situation “unreasonable and untenable” and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who represents some Clackamas voters in Congress, called Hall’s slow response a “inadmissible”. Fagan demanded a written plan from Hall detailing how she would get the election results compiled by June 13, the state’s deadline for certifying the results.
“Although she had time to prepare for an election day disaster, Ms Hall repeatedly failed to adapt and accept enough help to address the current crisis,” Bynum said.
The debacle has angered many in Oregon, where all ballots have been cast only by mail for 23 years and lawmakers have consistently pushed to expand voter access through automatic voter registration. and long delays. Also in question is a key race in the United States in a district that includes much of Clackamas County, which spans nearly 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers), from the liberal southern suburbs of Portland to conservative rural communities on the slopes of Mount Hood.
In the Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th congressional district, seven-term Rep. Kurt Schrader, a moderate, trailed in the vote behind progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner. The result could have an outsized impact in November, with the possibility that voters could flip the seat for the GOP.
Hall at a Friday press conference said she made some mistakes. Asked why she didn’t do more to address the issue when it was discovered in early May, Hall said, “I just didn’t.”
“I didn’t respond to that with the urgency I should have had and I realize that, but I still know we’ll get the count down in time,” she said. “It was something we had never seen before and so part of it, I guess, is just the reaction and learning.”
State Republicans were also paying close attention to the mess of the ballots.
Republican state Sen. Bill Kennemer, whose district includes much of Clackamas County, called the voting problems “alarming and concerning” and said he hoped the crisis would lead to fixes in the system.
“I would really like to see us after we get through this crisis, take deep breaths and bring in experts we trust, and then start looking at where our chinks are in our armor and what do we need for the fix,” he told The Associated Press on Friday.
Hall has used Moonlight BPO in Bend — a printer not used for ballots by any other county — and said she’s used them for 10 years with no problems.
Moonlight, which was founded as a small family business in 1985, had been a certified printer for the electoral system used by the county, the Hart InterCivic Tabulation System, but Hall said the company stopped certifying printers for printing ballots in 2020. Clackamas County continued to use Moonlight, but Hall said, “I have no intention of using them again.”
Aaron Berg, a representative for Moonlight, said Moonlight was unable to figure out what happened to the ballots.
“We follow the exact same protocol and process every year and nothing has changed this year,” he told AP. “We have to understand what is happening. And we’re not saying it’s anyone’s fault.
Berg said a Moonlight team traveled to Clackamas County in early May and met with Hall and another member of his staff to review the process. “That’s the last we heard of it until it hit the headlines, much to our surprise,” Berg said.
Up to 60,000 ballots are unreadable by vote counting machines due to blurry barcodes and up to 200 county workers have been redeployed from Thursday from their normal duties to manually transfer intent to the voter to a new ballot paper which could be scanned. As of Friday, only 27,342 ballots out of more than 90,000 that were returned had been counted.
Hall said the problem came to light on May 3, when workers submitted the first returned ballots to the counting machine. About 70 or 80 ballots from each batch of 125 were spat out as unreadable because their barcodes were fainter and slightly blurry. It was too late to print and send new ballots, she said.
Hall and his staff did not “check” the printed ballots before they were mailed out to check for any issues, as is considered best practice, but had talked about doing so, he said. she declared. It still wouldn’t catch the problem if toner ran out near the end of a print batch, affecting barcodes, as may have happened in this case, she said.
As Election Day approached and ballots piled up, Hall said she allowed poll workers to take the weekend off because only three people signed up to work Saturday or Sunday. Most election workers are “between 70 and 85 years old” and they need rest, she said.
Fagan said his office offered Hall help twice after the problem was discovered, but Hall said his county had enough resources.
State election officials say they have little authority over nonpartisan local county election officials, who operate independently and are accountable to voters. Hall is eligible for re-election in November after having held the position since 2003.
This isn’t the first time Hall has come under fire in her campaign role. In 2012, a temporary election worker was sentenced to 90 days in jail after admitting to tampering with two ballots. In 2014, Hall was criticized for using the phrase “Democratic Party” – a pejorative used by Republicans to demean Democrats – in a primary ballot instead of the Democratic Party.
A county audit conducted last year identified several problems with election procedures, but Hall implemented only two of four fixes suggested in the audit, said Tootie Smith, the county chairwoman.
Cline reported from Portland.
Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus and Sara Cline at http://www.twitter.com/SaraLCline