Thousands of ballots with blurry barcodes that vote-counting machines can’t read will delay results by weeks in a key U.S. House of Representatives race in the Oregon primary, a shocking development that has given a black eye to a mail-in voting pioneer in the state a national reputation as a leader in voter access and equity.
The fiasco affects up to 60,000 ballots, or two-thirds of the roughly 90,000 ballots returned so far in Oregon’s third-largest county. Hundreds of ballots were still coming in under a new law that allows them to be counted as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day, and 200 Clackamas County employees received a crash course in vote counting on Thursday after being redeployed to deal with the crisis had been.
Poll workers must pull the erroneous ballots from stacks of 125, transfer the voter’s intent to a new ballot, and then double-check their entries — a laborious process that could delay the election until June 13, when Oregon confirms its vote. The workers work in pairs, one Democrat and one Republican, in two shifts of 11 hours a day.
Voters from both political parties huddled in a narrow room with windows that allowed a view of the vote counting process on Thursday. They expressed shock at the mistake and anger at the slow response of embattled poll worker Sherry Hall, who has held the elected office for nearly 20 years.
“It blows my mind,” said Ron Smith, a Clackamas County voter. “It’s a bit questionable. Because of that, I’m here. … With everything that’s going on, we don’t need any additional suspicion. It seems like something like this was properly tested early in this whole process.”
The debacle has stunned Oregon, where all ballots have been mailed for 23 years and lawmakers have consistently pushed to expand voter access through automated voter registration, extended deadlines and other measures. It’s also challenging a key US home race in a redrawn borough centered around Clackamas County, which is nearly 2,000 square miles and stretches from Portland’s liberal southern suburbs to rural conservative communities on the flanks of Mount Hood.
In the Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th congressional district, seven-year Rep. Kurt Schrader, a moderate, trailed progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the vote. The result could have outsized implications in November, with the possibility that voters could flip the seat for the GOP.
Hall, who has been a poll worker for nearly 20 years, said the problem first came to light on May 3 when workers put the first returned ballots through the polling machine. About 70 or 80 ballots from each batch of 125 were spat out as unreadable because their barcodes were faintly printed and slightly blurred. It’s too late to print and mail new ballots, she said.
As Election Day approached and ballots piled up, Hall said she allowed poll workers to take the weekend off because only three people had signed up for Saturday or Sunday work. “We have mostly people between the ages of 70 and 85,” and they need rest, she said.
Kathy Selvaggio, who lives in the more urban and affluent suburbs of the county, peered through windows Thursday to watch the vote count.
“I wonder how much we can actually see,” said Selvaggio, who lives in the more urban and affluent suburbs of the county and was a volunteer for the McLeod Skinner campaign.
“Mail-in voting works, it works well here, but it erodes my confidence in (Hall),” she said.
Hall couldn’t say how many additional poll workers from the county had been transferred to their offices or how many would be arriving on Friday. She said her department had discussed checking ballots before they were sent out, but that her office had used the printer in question for 10 years with no problems.
“There’s a lot of other work to be done,” Hall, who is up for re-election in November, told the AP. “I hate the fact that this has happened to our ballots. It’s terrible. We need to build trust with voters and this is not a trustworthy article but we are doing what we can.”
It’s not the first time Hall has come under fire in her campaign role. In 2012, a temporary campaign worker was sentenced to 90 days in prison after admitting to tampering with two ballots. And in 2014, Hall was criticized for using the term “Democratic Party” — a derogatory term used by Republicans to demean Democrats — on a primary instead of Democratic Party.
Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said she was “deeply concerned” by the recent situation, and her office issued a statement on Tuesday calling the delay “unacceptable” for elected officials and they don’t have to cast the ballots “Check” although this is a good practice.
“We don’t have the authority to ‘take over’ the process,” said Ben Morris, spokesman for the agency. “The independence of county officials is an important part of the electoral system and right now our focus is on supporting it.”
Cline reported from Portland, Oregon.
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https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/oregon-ap-portland-republican-mount-hood-b2083268.html Election fiasco delays results in Oregon, pioneer of mail-in voting