Oregon elections officials check ballots, making sure they match voter information. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
Despite some conservative opposition, the state Senate has approved a resolution supporting county elections officials who’ve faced a wave of threats and violence across the country, including in Oregon.
Senate Resolution 1, proposed by Shemia Fagan, Oregon’s secretary of state, condemns violence against election workers and applauds them for “their professionalism and dedication to upholding fair and safe elections.”
In written testimony, Fagan called Oregon’s 36 county clerks the state’s “unsung heroes.”
“Increasingly, this job comes with public skepticism and sometimes outright hostility,” Fagan said, noting that one-quarter of clerks in Oregon have retired or resigned, including some after 30 years of service.
“These jobs are demanding. They are stressful, and they have become more so ever since the 2020 election as false information has led to increased lawsuits, public records requests, threats and harassment. Our clerks have my unyielding respect and admiration for their service,” she said.
Elections officials in some states have faced death threats and have had to go into hiding. There have also been threats in Oregon. A year ago, the Secretary of State’s office surveyed staff in Oregon’s Elections Division. Ben Morris, the agency’s spokesman, said 76% reported being threatened or harassed.
Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, said before a vote on the resolution Monday that elections officials in Jackson County had faced “violent expressions” but that threats were “more intense, more dangerous” elsewhere in the country. He called for unanimous support for the resolution.
All 17 Democrats and five Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp of Bend, voted for the bill. Seven Republicans voted against it along with independent Sen. Brian Boquist of McMinnville.
A few opponents, including Sen. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, said they support Oregon’s election workers and condemn violence but oppose the resolution because it doesn’t address issues like “ballot harvesting” – when political operatives collect ballots and turn them in – or alleged votes by dead people.
“There’s no place for threats of violence in our elections,” Bonham said. “That said, the issues that we shouldn’t be talking about are not addressed in this bill.”
Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Grants Pass, testified twice against the resolution. He said it was unnecessary and that counties should be investigating any “nefarious actions or deeds.”
“We don’t know what has occurred unless we utilize Freedom of Information Act requests to get that data,” he said, adding that counties were charging hefty fees to fulfill records requests.
In Oregon, and across the country, conservatives and election deniers have bogged down elections offices with records requests about alleged electoral problems since former President Donald Trump said the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Democrats.
Fagan is seeking additional money from the Legislature to add staff who can respond to coordinated records requests. The employees she hopes to hire would be able to help respond to records requests in small counties, which in some cases have only one or two full-time employees.
Conspiracy theories of large-scale fraud have swirled in Oregon but they’ve been debunked, as they have elsewhere.
Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton and Senate Democratic leader, said the resolution was just about supporting Oregon’s election workers and nothing else.
“This bill simply says we see you. We thank you. We appreciate your work,” Lieber said.
The resolution now heads to the House for consideration.
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