Secretary of State Shemia Fagan on Tuesday night blasted Clackamas County for its significant delays in reporting the results on Election Night — while expressing confidence that the results, when they eventually arrive, can be trusted.
“As Oregon’s chief election officer — and a Clackamas County voter — I am deeply concerned about the delay in reporting from Clackamas County Elections tonight,” she said in a statement shortly before 11 p.m.
“While I am confident that the process they are following is secure, transparent and the results will be accurate, the county’s reporting delays tonight are unacceptable. Voters have done their jobs, and now it’s time for Clackamas County Elections to do theirs.”
Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall reported earlier this month that a misprinted barcode had been discovered that would cause problems and significant delays in reporting the results.
Officials later estimated the error affected the printing of up to two-thirds of the ballots that had been sent to voters, with the mistake appearing to disproportionately affect registered Democrats.
Hall told the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners last week that her office had used a certified print shop that had served the county for more than a decade without any serious problems.
The issue was that the barcodes were “not dark black” and lacked crisp lines, making them unreadable by the automatic tallying machines and requiring election workers to painstakingly copy them onto new ballots by hand.
The employees work in teams of two, each one of a different party affiliation, to ensure the ballots are copied accurately. The county has used this process in the past when ballots arrived with damage from the mail or the voter themselves (such as a spill), but has never had to duplicate votes at this scale.
The election office is open to the public and voters concerned about the tallying are welcome to observe the tallying.
“The normal process would be that the initial results are everything that has come in as of Monday — the day before,” Hall told commissioners Thursday. “I’m not sure how close we’re going to get to that because of what’s happened, but we plan to have our tallies by 8:15. We will know how many are left.”
And yet, little was normal on Election Night in Clackamas County. The first results were not posted on the county’s website until 8:45 — though the report itself said it had run at 7:14 — and were not reported to the state until after 9:30.
And those results were woefully incomplete. More than 65,000 ballots had been returned as of Monday — a turnout of 21.4% — but in the results Tuesday night, only about 10,000 were tabulated, including fewer than 7,000 Republican ballots and fewer than 2,000 Democratic ones.
That left approximately 80,000 ballots (depending on how many came in on Election Day) still to be tallied in Clackamas County, accounting for an estimated 80% of the Republican primary vote and 96% of the Democratic one.
And while several statewide races were decisive enough to call on Election Night without the vote totals from Clackamas, many local and regional ones remained in doubt.
Hall told KOIN 6 News her office experienced additional technical difficulties on Tuesday night, when the machine that sends results to the state broke, requiring an election official to enter the data manually.
“Elections must go on,” Hall told the station. “Elections need to be done on time. Dates are set in stone and we do not get overwhelmed with this because we’re problem solvers.”
But Fagan appeared to have little sympathy, saying the clerk knew about the printing issue weeks before Election Day and should have had ample time to address the situation.
County Administrator Gary Schmidt told commissioners last week that he had pulled 37 workers and volunteers — including himself — to assist the election office. Fagan said she had also offered extra personnel.
“We eagerly await a response from county elections officials on how we can aid in the timely processing of results,” Fagan said. “I am disappointed that we have not seen more urgency from elections officials in Clackamas County.”
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