Oregon secretary of state orders extensive post-election audit in Clackamas County

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said Clackamas County must do more than the standard post-election hand count to rebuild trust

By: - June 10, 2022 5:15 pm

Election workers review ballots at the Marion County Clerk’s Office in Salem on Monday, May 16. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Clackamas County must perform a more extensive post-election audit than other counties because of its ballot-printing issues, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan ordered Friday.

After every election, the secretary of state directs each county to hand-count votes in at least two races on randomly selected batches of ballots to compare with machine-tabulated results. Fagan on Friday said Clackamas County must do more to rebuild trust with voters after a printing issue that delayed results and constantly changing statements from County Clerk Sherry Hall, who oversees elections. 

“My mission as Oregon’s secretary of state is to build trust,” Fagan said. “But let’s face it, weeks of negative headlines 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.”

Two weeks before the May 17 election, and after ballots had already been sent out, Hall learned that a portion of the county’s ballots had been printed with defective barcodes. That printing error didn’t affect any of the contests on a ballot, but it meant tabulation machines couldn’t detect which races were on a specific ballot.

Fixing it meant county election workers, working in teams of two, needed to hand-copy each defective ballot onto a new ballot with a usable barcode. That takes about three minutes per ballot, with one member of the team reading off votes, the second filling out a new ballot and then switching roles to ensure the two ballots match. 

Clackamas County didn’t track how many ballots it duplicated, but it estimated about two-thirds of the more than 116,000 ballots cast were affected. Hall repeatedly promised before the election that the labor-heavy process wouldn’t significantly affect the county’s ability to process ballots, and she refused to accept help from the state, other county clerks or non-elections Clackamas County employees until several days after the election.

Because of slow results, voters didn’t learn until 10 days after the election that U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader lost his seat , and voters in the 38th House District are still waiting to learn the winner of the Democratic primary. Portland restaurateur Daniel Nguyen leads Neelam Gupta, director of clinical support, integration and workforce at the Oregon Health Authority, by just 14 votes, or .09%. The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to win in November because of the district’s voter demographics. 

Clackamas County had more than 2,400 ballots left to count when it last reported results on June 2. If Gupta and Nguyen remain within 0.2 percentage points by the time every vote is counted and certified, the race will go to an automatic recount. 

The county reported daily updates during the last week of May, then announced June 2 that it would provide no more updates until Monday,  June 13, the legal deadline to certify the election. As of June 2, just over 1,100 ballots still needed to be duplicated and more than 2,400 still needed to be counted. 

Fagan’s order requires Clackamas County to hand-count six countywide races on about 12,000 county ballots: Two Clackamas County commission races, three judges and the race for U.S. Senate. She also ordered hand-counts for precinct committee person ballots in 10 voting precincts. 

Clackamas County must finish its hand recount by June 23, unless the secretary of state agrees to an extension, according to the directive.  

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.