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Officials note that a small number of ballots for the primary have a blurry bar code, but results won't be impacted.

A blurry bar code on some ballots printed for the May 17 Primary Election has come to the attention of the Clackamas County Clerk's office.

According to the office, this was a printing issue with an external printer that has printed ballots for Clackamas County for more than 10 years with no issues. This defect in the printed ballot causes the affected ballots to be rejected by the county's automated ballot processing equipment.

However, the ballots with the defect are validly-cast votes and will be tallied.

These defective bar codes do not identify voters, nor do they relate in any way to a voter's selections on candidates or measures. They are a code that identifies the "ballot style" so that the equipment can tally the votes in the correct elections.

The Herald-Pioneer.County Clerk Sherry Hall noted that a certain number of ballots received in every election are damaged in handling, in the mail or while in the possession of the voters due to beverage spills and similar accidents. There is a routine process for handling those ballots. The original ballots themselves are retained.

At least two election workers of different political affiliations transfer the votes to a machine-readable duplicate ballot. The workers must agree that the votes cast on the original ballot have been correctly transferred to the "duplicate" ballot to be read by the machine. The duplicate ballot is then included in the batch to be processed in place of the damaged ballot. The damaged ballot is retained.

The entire process of ballot duplication for the machine-unreadable ballots will be witnessed by election observers, but the level of activity will be higher than what was seen in the past. The Herald-Pioneer.Observable colored lanyards identify the political affiliation of election workers and are worn at all times so that observers can be sure that correct process is being used.

"It is our objective to count every validly cast vote in this election and every election," Hall said. "Our voters are entitled to expect nothing less. We have plans and procedures in place to respond to this situation and many others competently and correctly. Fortunately, recent legislative and regulatory changes allowed my staff to identify this problem early in the election and have provided additional time to deal with it. It is simply a matter of staffing up and scaling up a process that has been vetted and is already in use.

"There is no better election staff than the one we have here in Clackamas County and we expect to meet all deadlines for the release of tallies and certification of results in spite of the increase in workload."

Clackamas County Commissioner Chair Tootie Smith issued a statement Friday regarding the issue. "Regardless of intent or innocence of a mistake, there will be lingering questions about this election and the process used to remedy the situation," she said.

"The elected County Clerk is an independent official of the county and must assure the fair and unbiased operations of elections. If there were time or an allowance in law, I would call that the ballots be reprinted and reissued. However, it is not possible to do that."

Smith noted that the Oregon legislature will allow seven extra days to process ballots due to possible delays caused by the printing error. She also noted that results of the election will not be impacted by the error or delays.

This story was updated 5/06/22 to include information from Chair Tootie Smith's statement.

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