Lawmaker calls for investigation into Oregon voting fiasco

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An election worker at the Clackamas County Elections Office shows barcodes on ballots that are bad, superior, and good Thursday, May 19, 2022, Oregon City, Oregon. Ballots with fuzzy barcodes that cannot be read by vote-counting machines will delay election results by weeks in a key U.S. House race in the United States primary. Oregon. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

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A Democratic Oregon state lawmaker is calling for a formal investigation into a ballot printing fiasco that will delay Tuesday’s primary results in the state’s third-largest county by weeks, with a key U.S. House race at stake.

The call from Rep. Janelle Bynum, who represents voters in part of the affected county, comes amid growing pressure Friday on Clackamas County Election Clerk Sherry Hall, who oversaw elections in the county. suburb south of Portland for almost 20 years. Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said Friday she had requested a written plan from Hall showing how she would count votes by June 13, which is Oregon’s deadline for certifying election results.

Bynum, the state legislator, called the situation “unreasonable and untenable” in a statement lambasting Hall, who is up for reelection in November.

“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,” he said. she stated. “When voters vote, they deserve efficiency, transparency and integrity-driven processes to determine who wins these elections.

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. , extended deadlines and other measures. It is also in question a key American home race in a redesigned district that includes much of Clackamas County, which spans nearly 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers), from the liberal southern suburbs from Portland to conservative rural communities on the flanks 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.

Republicans in the state also paid close attention to the ballot disaster, including GOP gubernatorial candidate and former Oregon House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, who had to wait longer than expected. for Tuesday night results that ultimately declared her the winner of the crowded Republican primary. Drazan urged worried voters to go to election offices, where people can watch poll workers through several large windows as they open and count ballots and – in this case – transfer votes to new ones. ballot papers.

State Sen. Bill Kennemer, a Republican 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 call in experts we trust, and then start looking at where our chinks are in our armor and what do we need for the repair,” he told the AP 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. A man who answered the phone Friday to Moonlight BPO said no one was available to comment and said he would forward the request to someone via email.

“We talked about this piece, checking after it was printed, but we have 447 ballot styles so we would need a few proofs of each ballot style,” Hall told the AP. “But then if we had good proofs but at the end of the batch the toner runs out and isn’t intense enough – as is the problem now – then we wouldn’t see all the ballots.

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. The process is laborious and on Friday only 23,000 ballots 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.

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. She hired a few county workers on May 11, more than a week after learning about the problem, and dozens more were mobilized starting Thursday after the county commission held an emergency meeting and pressed her.

State election officials say they have little authority over nonpartisan local county election officials, who operate independently and are accountable to voters. Hall is re-elected in November after having held the position since 2003 and faces a longtime election administrator and former librarian named Catherine McMullen.

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 Smith, the county chairwoman.

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Cline reported from Portland. She is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus and Sara Cline at http://www.twitter.com/SaraLCline



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Sandy A. Greer