Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan has ordered an audit of Clackamas County’s election results after a ballot printing error and admitted failures to adequately prepare for it delayed the counting of tens of thousands of votes in the May 17 primary.
The audit, announced Friday, comes after an estimated two-thirds of ballots in Clackamas County were printed with defective barcodes, requiring hundreds of temporary election workers borrowed from other counties and offices to painstainkingly hand-duplicate them onto clean, readable ballots.
The ongoing hand count has taken hundreds of workers, several weeks and has been accompanied by a litany of administrative issues and mounting complaints from candidates, citizens and elected officials at all levels of government.
Fagan, who has previously expressed concern and frustration with the delay, repeatedly calling it and some of longtime Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall’s behavior “outrageous,” said her job as Oregon’s top elections official is to oversee elections and build trust.
In a statement Friday, she said she hoped a post-election audit would do just that.
“Clackamas County voters can trust the results of their election,” Fagan said in the prepared statement. “We can verify that the results are accurate by directing the county to audit its work.”
Standard post-election audits involve pulling a statistically significant, random sample of ballots off the shelves and counting them by hand, then comparing the results to the machine count to verify accuracy.
Fagan’s directive requires additional recounts in Clackamas County, and it requires election workers here to verify that duplicated ballots were transcribed accurately from their original.
Post-election audits have been standard practice in Oregon since 2008, Fagan said, calling them “one of the pillars of election integrity that make Oregon’s vote-by-mail system the gold standard for modern, secure and transparent elections.”
In the statement, she admitted that “weeks of negative headlines [have] eroded Oregonians’ trust in elections.”
“Even though processing the votes in Clackamas County was slow, it is now my responsibility to confirm that it was done correctly so voters can trust the election results,” she said.
As of June 2, Clackamas County had reported that 113,641 of the 116,045 ballots it received by May 24 had been counted, or just shy of 98%. The remaining ballots have been processed this week, but the county did not plan to release further results until the certification deadline Monday.
Hanging in the balance is the razor-thin race between Neelam Gupta and Daniel Nguyen for the Democratic nomination in Oregon House District 38, which comprises portions of southwest Portland in Multnomah County and Lake Oswego in Clackamas — and is currently divided by fewer than 15 votes.
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