Printing error affecting many Clackamas County ballots will require votes to be copied by hand, increasing county costs and delaying election results

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Clackamas County election officials mailed ballots with faulty barcodes to an unknown number of voters for the May 17 primary, a mistake that will cost the county extra money and likely delay poll results. elections.

County Clerk Sherry Hall announced Wednesday that a printing error had blurred the barcodes on many ballots, rendering them unreadable by the county’s ballot processing equipment. Election officials did not notice the error until the ballots were sent to voters.

It is one of at least four errors or wrongdoings, one of which was criminal, that have marred Clackamas County elections since 2010 and one of two significant errors made by the County Board of Elections this year.

Hall said defective ballots will still be counted, but the process of counting those votes will take longer because election workers will have to fill out new ballots by hand for voters whose barcodes were defective. . At least two election workers registered with different political parties will help transfer votes to the new ballots to avoid errors, Hall said. Election observers will witness the process and the county will keep damaged ballots on file.

The county has used a similar process in the past for ballots damaged in the mail or by election workers. But Hall said county employees have never had to deal with a mistake of this magnitude.

Hall said the county does not know how many defective ballots were sent to voters or how much more the county will have to pay to transfer those votes to new ballots. However, she said between 56% and 64% of the first 375 ballots the county ran through its ballot-processing machine on Wednesday were rejected. She said the company that printed the ballots uses four printers.

She said the county should have a better estimate by next week of the number of defective ballots. So far, less than 5% of ballots have been returned to the county.

Despite the error, Hall said the county expects to meet all deadlines for releasing tallies and certifying results, which are one week to three weeks after election night.

“Fortunately, recent legislative and regulatory changes allowed my staff to identify this issue early in the election and provided more time to address it,” Hall said. “It’s just staffing and expanding a process that has been verified and is already in use.”

Clackamas County Elections Officer Rebekah Stern Doll said lawmakers gave election officials an extra week to count ballots this year, which should help the county overcome the error without significantly delaying elections. results or require the hiring of more staff. She said poll workers would go to work every day in the run-up to the election — instead of two days a week — counting votes because of the error. However, if many ballots arrive on election night with faulty barcodes, it could delay the results. In the 2018 primary election, 32% of Clackamas County ballots were submitted on Election Day.

Another error Clackamas County voters may notice this election cycle is in their campaign pamphlets. Pamphlets Clackamas County sent to voters for the May 17 election include an index page that lists multiple candidates on the wrong pages.

Hall, who has served as the county’s elected clerk since 2003, is being challenged this year by Catherine McMullen, who is a program specialist for the Multnomah County Elections Division and is certified as an election administrator. The race will be in the November ballot.

Following Wednesday’s announcement, McMullen blasted Hall for what she called a “litany of electoral errors” during her opponent’s tenure as county clerk.

“These types of mistakes are preventable and erode trust between citizens and our democratic processes,” she said in a statement. “It is crucial to put an end to these costly mistakes so that our elections can run smoothly, safely and transparently.”

In May 2010, Hall opted to reprint ballots that erroneously included a commissioner’s race that should have appeared on the November ballot, even though a Circuit Court judge ruled the county would have was able to avoid reprinting by including a note in voter packages alerting voters to the error. The reprint cost the county $118,000, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Clackamas County also gained national attention in 2013 when a temporary election worker filled in the races left blank on two ballots for Republican candidates. Deanna Swenson, 55, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years probation for her actions. A citizens’ committee that reviewed the situation found that Hall had followed protocol, but still suggested improvements to prevent something similar from happening again.

-Jamie Goldberg; [email protected]; @jamiebgoldberg

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