Clackamas County is promising transparency and trustworthy election results in the continuing efforts to clean up an unprecedented mess created by a serious printing error, higher-than-expected voter turnout and Clerk Sherry Hall’s own, admitted failures to adequately prepare for known problems in last week’s primary.
The county on Saturday said that Hall had appointed Clackamas County Administrator Gary Schmidt to serve as deputy elections administrator, saying the move would allow the deployment of county resources to be streamlined and “ensure transparent information is available to residents and candidates.”
The county has also established an “elections support center” dedicated to logistics and communication, including scheduling, security, supplies, facilities and finance, as well as working to ensure daily election result updates online and provide answers to community and media questions.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” the county said in a May 21 news release. “Essential county services such as public safety, health and social services, emergency services, and other critical services will continue, however, other work is paused or slowed so we can have as many people focus on the election results.”
Officials are working to establish a new website for sharing results and other election information, and expect to announce a timeline for having all votes counted on Monday. Unofficial results are also being posted on the clerk’s website at www.clackamas.us/elections/returns-results.
It had previously been announced, the day after Election Day, that Schmidt had reassigned up to 200 county employees to assist in the manual processing of ballots, but that rollout, too, proved to be more sluggish than anticipated.
The public learned two days later that the most tedious and time-consuming part of the remaining work — painstakingly hand-duplicating some-70,000 misprinted ballots (the majority of them from registered Democratic voters) — would not begin until Monday at the earliest.
The news came as one congressional campaign complained of unequal treatment, a state lawmaker demanded a legislative inquiry and an increasingly irate Secretary of State Shemia Fagan and other officials blamed Hall for the stunning meltdown in Oregon’s third-largest county.
Sunday morning brought more bad news for the embattled clerk, as The Oregonian became the first major media organization to call for Hall’s resignation over her “profound mishandling” of the county’s election.
“Certainly, the problems appear to originate with the printing shop that issued the faulty ballots,” the paper’s editorial board admitted. “But quality control across all aspects of this process is part of the job of running elections — a position Hall has filled for nearly 20 years and for which she earns a salary of $112,700.
“Diligence and attention to detail are critical for maintaining both the integrity of our elections and the trust of voters. Unfortunately, Hall’s sloppy performance reflects either a lack of competence or a lack of concern. Neither is acceptable.”
Catherine McMullen, an experienced elections administrator in Multnomah County and Hall’s opponent in the November midterms, was quick to pile on.
“Clackamas County voters badly need a clerk who will count their vote and can deliver timely election results,” she wrote on Facebook. “I stand ready as an experienced and award-winning elections administrator, to bring timely, accurate, secure, transparent, and accessible elections to the voters of our county. We can rise from this unfortunate mishandling with an experienced professional at the helm.”
The debacle could hardly have come at a worse time, casting an unflattering spotlight on Oregon’s beloved vote-by-mail system at a time when the nation’s election results already face high levels of mistrust, fueled by former President Donald Trump’s claims about the 2020 election which, though widely disproven and repeatedly rejected in court, continue to be repeated by his supporters and allies.
At least 115,000 county ballots had been returned as of Friday, for an estimated turnout of 37.5%, with thousands more expected. Under a new law, any ballot that arrives in the mail and is postmarked on or before Election Day must be counted.
As of Saturday, fewer than 42,000 had been tallied and reported, the vast majority of them from Republican voters. The results of local and regional GOP races were crystallizing, with it now being all but certain that incumbent Republican State Representative Jame Hieb had won his primary with around 60% of the vote.
In the most recent results, he had claimed 3,688 votes, or 60.4%, to challenger Lisa Davidson’s 2,387 (39.1%). State Representative Daniel Bonham’s victory in the Republican primary for Senate District 26 could also comfortably be called, with him winning 65.6% of the vote over Steve Bates and Michael Nugent.
But other results remained very much in doubt, including a nationally watched race in progressive newcomer Jamie McLeod-Skinner’s bid to unseat incumbent Kurt Schrader, a moderate Democrat.
McLeod-Skinner has a comfortable lead of nearly 10,000 votes, primarily on the strength of her showing in her home county of Deschutes, where she claimed 71% of the vote.
But with perhaps as many 55,000 or more Democratic votes remaining in Schrader’s longtime base of Clackamas County, there remains a possible — albeit very unlikely — pathway for the beleaguered incumbent to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
And the results of two commissioner races remained entirely unclear, with incumbent Paul Savas and challenger Ben West — two candidates likely to be favored by Republicans — leading in their respective contests.
If either or both manage to claim 50% of the vote, they will win the seat outright. Otherwise, they will advance to a runoff on the November ballot with the second-leading vote-getter in their races.
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