As one of the most intensely watched presidential election in recent memory draws near, Clackamas County elections officials are surprised (and thrilled) by the high levels of engagement — and very ready to deliver a secure and accurate tally of the vote.
Calls and even in-person visitors — known as “election observers” — have flooded into the Clackamas County Elections Office in recent days.
“We are getting a lot of people calling very emotional and very concerned that their ballots will not be counted as they expect them to,” County Elections Manager Andrew Jones said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
“It’s just been a lot more attention, more than anything. And it’s given us the chance to get to brag a bit about our vote-by-mail system.”
In a year where election officials in many states are anxiously preparing to process unprecedented millions of mail-in ballots — brought on by the pandemic — the process in Oregon is virtually unchanged from how the state has done voting for over 20 years.
It’s “tried-and-true,” says Jones.
The one thing that has been a noticeable — and welcome — shift from previous election cycles are the large numbers of ballots that have been returned early.
As of Thursday evening, Jones and his team had received ballots from almost 200,000 of the county’s 308,000 registered voters — a 63.9% turnout that is a full 23 points higher than at this same time in the election cycle four years ago.
Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall admitted it has been a challenge — mainly due to levels of staffing that have been reduced because of the pandemic.
“We’re overwhelmed,” she said. “Pre-pandemic, we could have a lot more temporary workers here. But with the pandemic, space limitations have really reduced the number of people that can sit at the tables and open the ballots to prepare for the tally. And we’ve never gotten this many ballots back this early.”
That said, the early turnout has also been a blessing, because it gives the reduced staff more time to handle the workload. Hall also praised county administrators for temporarily shifting employees from other departments to assist with processing ballots.
Apart from calls, county elections officials have seen dozens of people taking advantage of their offer to become “election observers.”
“Simply put, the observers observe what we do,” county spokesman Dylan Blaylock tells The Canby Current. “Sometimes they are representatives of political parties or campaigns, but individual voters are welcome as well. Yesterday, a voter brought her children through to learn about how we conduct elections.”
More than 30 people have come through just in the past two days, Jones told reporters Thursday.
“We are thrilled about that,” he said. “Part of being a public and transparent process is having the public show up and watch us. And I’ve not had a single observer who leaves thinking ballots are not being counted correctly.
“The more people we can have see the way that the system works, and the procedures that are in place to safeguard the election, the better off we are.”
Elections officials have not had to increase security or alter their procedures based on high turnout or voter concerns, Jones said.
A police officer or deputy will accompany the bipartisan teams of elections workers to do their final pickups at 8 p.m. Tuesday at each of the county’s 25 ballot boxes — but this has been the county’s standard practice for years.
It’s too late to mail your ballot and be sure it will arrive in time. Instead, visit one of the county’s official ballot drop boxes — including two located in Canby: at the Canby Civic Center and Library and at Arneson Gardens (behind Fred Meyer).
For more information about voting in Clackamas County, including frequently asked questions, visit clackamas.us/elections. To track the status of your ballot online, visit the My Vote page from the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.