As Oregon and the nation barrel toward the Nov. 3 general election, staff and leaders within the Clackamas County Elections Office are making their last-minute preparations ahead of what many pundits are characterizing as one of the most critical elections seen in decades for all points on the political spectrum.
With that in mind, County Clerk Sherry Hall and Elections Manager Andrew Jones are hosting a virtual 'Make a plan to vote' town hall Monday, Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. to ensure local voters have all the information they need to safely and securely exercise their right to vote.
Participants will learn more about Oregon's vote-by-mail system, as well as procedures, timelines and practical tips on how to register, get ballots and ultimately cast their votes. Information will also be provided for voters who have been displaced by the Clackamas County wildfires.
As part of an ongoing series called "Checking in," Pamplin Media Group exchanged emails with Hall to hear how she and her staff are faring ahead of the town hall Monday and the election with less than 25 days to go.
Obviously this is a busy time for the clerk's office and County Elections Division, but what preparations are keeping you and your staff most occupied at the moment? What's left to be done ahead of the election?
The election is already well underway. We've already received over 800 voted ballots for this election. We are receiving and processing hundreds of voter registration updates daily and preparing ballots for those voters. Our staff is busy issuing ballots to early voters, helping voters confirm their registration, and making arraignments for voters that need special assistance.
We're also finalizing our contingency plans and traffic controls to ensure voters have access to ballot boxes and our office in the days leading up to Election Day when traffic will be heaviest.
What questions does your office get the most from the public? What do you think people are most uneducated about when it comes to voting and our elections system?
The most common questions we get from voters: "Can you confirm that I am registered to vote?" And, "When will you be mailing ballots out?"
The aspect of our elections system that most people do not fully understand is that the election doesn't just happen on Election Day. Elections are conducted over months and Election Day is simply the deadline for the voter to participate. Our office will continue to finish processing ballots, assisting voters to resolve challenges, and conduct post-election audits before we certify the results 20 days after Election Day.
Is the county seeing more or less registered voters for this general election than in the past? Does there seem to be a larger buzz around this election than typical or is it pretty much similar to past presidential elections?
Yes, more voters and more buzz. The number of registered voters in Clackamas County has been climbing for years now:
Election Day in 2016 (presidential election) there were 269,156 registered voters. Election Day in 2018 (gubernatorial election) there were 288,244 registered coters. Today there are 307,872 active registered voters in Clackamas County, and the deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 13.
Today is 25 days before Election Day and we have already received over 800 voted ballots. At this same point in 2016 we had received only 29 ballots, and in 2018 we had received only 274 ballots, which shows our early ballot returns are substantially higher in 2020.
What would you say to someone who's unsure of whether or not they should exercise their right to vote? Do you have any words of encouragement for young voters who aren't necessarily plugged in to politics but want to make their voice heard? What advice would you give them?
Young people historically do not turn out at the same rate as different age groups. In the 2016 General Election, Clackamas voters aged 18-24 turned out at 56.6% compared to the overall rate of 81% for the election, and 91% for voters over the age of 55. Your vote is your voice. It's up to each individual to make their voice heard.
We keep hearing people say that we should vote early — does that actually help the process along if you submit your ballot via mail way ahead of election day?
Yes, it actually does. There are several benefits to voting early. First, by voting early, you'll be able to verify via MyVote online that our office has received your ballot. Second, it helps our office operate more efficiently and will increase the percentage of results that are available on Election Night. Lastly, you are much less likely of being contacted by a campaign after you've voted.
Describe what Election Day is like for your office? Can you characterize the scene a bit for us to give us insight into what it's like to coordinate such a major and important event?
There's an energy and excitement to Election Day as it's the culmination of years of planning and coordination. Election Day is very busy — we typically receive up to 25% of all the ballots voted in an election on Election Day. We have teams circling the county throughout the day to service our 25 official ballot drop sites and bring the ballots back to our Election Office. Registered voters are coming in to pick up ballots on Election Day up until the poll closes at 8 pm.
What's the key to ensuring that our elections run smoothly?
Planning, experience and a great team who understands the importance of our work. We've been conducting vote-by-mail elections in Oregon for over 20 years, and we are always evaluating our procedures and looking for ways to improve the service we provide to voters. Also, we are always looking for ways to improve our operational efficiencies.
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