Voter fraud in Oregon? Gladstone councilors receiving scrutiny
Formal complaints have been filed against three Gladstone city councilors alleging improper voting practices and violations of Oregon's open-meeting laws.
Gladstone City Councilor Linda Neace insists that she moved from Oregon City to Gladstone in 2009, but a formal complaint has been filed with the Clackamas County Elections Office based on her voter registration having changed in 2014.
Neace is suspected of voting while registered at an address that was different from her residence. All voters sign a statement each time they vote in Oregon certifying, "I still live at the address where I am registered to vote."
Meanwhile the city of Gladstone is investigating whether three city councilors — who were a quorum of Gladstone City Council at the time — predetermined their July 25 votes for the appointment of two city councilors to replace those who were recalled by voters in a special May election. Neace and Councilor Tom Mersereau have admitted to speaking with multiple other city councilors about the potential appointees. Councilor Pat McMahon joined the meeting by phone just for the appointment vote and voted "lockstep" with Neace and Mersereau, with no explanation for their decision to ignore the interview committee's recommendation.
Gladstone City Administrator Jacque Betz confirmed that the city received the complaint from citizen Patrick Mathis; it will be reviewed by City Attorney David Doughman with an eye to a white paper written by the League of Oregon Cities.
"I did send an acknowledgment to Patrick that the city received the complaint and David has it for legal review," Betz said.
Mathis said collusion and violating the open-meetings laws are not the only offenses involved.
"The sitting councilors agreed to a process through which the seats would be filled to include two citizens, two city employees and two councilors," Mathis wrote in the complaint. "They broke the trust of the citizens of Gladstone in order to avoid seating Mr. Hernandez, the candidate with the most votes/recommendations. This was done because of political rivalry and to be able to carry forward a voting block that ensures their power in the council."
Neace said she had been getting mail, including her election ballots, at her previous Oregon City address between 2009 and 2014.
Election records show that Neace didn't return her ballots for the 2011 Oregon City recall election or the Clackamas River Water recall election of 2013. Gladstone residents weren't eligible to vote in these elections.
Oregon City commissioners, rather than Gladstone city councilors, appeared on Neace's ballots in November 2010 and 2012. Neace also voted in the 2011 special-district election, which had candidates for the Oregon City School District or the Gladstone School District for local residents.
Neace said that she didn't remember voting for any of the Oregon City candidates while she was a resident of Gladstone and registered as a voter in Oregon City between 2009 and 2014.
"I don't think I voted in any of the Oregon City elections," Neace said.
In response to questions about the legality of Neace's actions, Clackamas County Elections Clerk Sherry Hall said that the circumstance "looks like a complaint against a voter to me." Hall offered to forward an election-law-violation complaint on Neace to the Secretary of State Elections Division, which would do the investigation and make a ruling, but the Secretary of State eventually sent the complaint by Mathis back to Hall for review.
Neace said that Hall still has a grudge from when the two of them ran against each other in 2014. Neace received 8.7 percent of the vote in the attempt to unseat Hall as clerk.
"She hasn't gotten over it," Neace said. "Of course she'll file an elections complaint, because she's done everything in the world."
Hall did not elaborate on the investigation plan to determine whether Neace was registered to vote in the correct place at the correct time.
"I am in communication with State Elections to determine how to move forward on this complaint," Hall said. "I have no other information for you at this time."
Mathis said that he doubted that city or county would take any meaningful action against the Gladstone councilors. In the confusion over which governmental organizations have jurisdiction over the complaints, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission said that "enforcement of Oregon public-meetings law may only be accomplished by a lawsuit brought by anyone affected by a decision of the governing body."
Mathis pointed out that the office of Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who is a Republican, initially thought that Clackamas County's Republican elections clerk should investigate the open-meetings violation involving Neace and other Republican city councilors. It was eventually determined that the city should investigate its own councilors. Mathis believes that another recall election is the only way that he and other Gladstone voters will have renewed faith in city government.
"My goal is to get the corruption out of here, and I'm not going to stop until Linda Neace resigns or gets recalled by voters," Mathis said.