Ballot mix-up has city, county, state scrambling for solution
Due to a clerical error, voters will have to wait to cast their ballots for three spots on the Newberg City Council.
When local voters opened their ballots on Friday, Oct. 21, they discovered that only residents of Districts 2, 4 and 6 saw listed the respective candidates for the three districts, even though the city's charter requires all voters to weigh in on council races.
"Voting in Newberg is at-large. Every resident in Newberg votes for mayor and all districts up for election," District 4 incumbent Jefferson Mildenberger said on social media.
Word of the error made its way to the county office responsible for creating and disseminating the ballots, then tabulating them once they are cast.
"The Yamhill County Clerk's office was made aware of an error on ballots mailed to residents within the city of Newberg … on Thursday," a press release from the clerk's office said. "Our office, the city of Newberg and the Oregon Secretary of State's elections division immediately convened a response team upon hearing of the issue to develop an appropriate remedy."
In a press release distributed Saturday, the Secretary of State's office acknowledged that the ballot was incorrectly printed.
"The error concerns the races for three Newberg City Council positions in Districts 2, 4 and 6," the release said. "Those positions are elected at-large, so every district should appear on the ballot for every Newberg voter. However, the races for Districts 2, 4 and 6 are printed only on the ballots sent to registered voters in each district, respectively. For example, the race in District 2 appears only on the ballots of voters who registered in District 2."
County clerk Keri Hinton explained the detailed process by which cities, in conjunction with the county and the state, go about creating and printing the ballots voters receive every election. However, there was a key miscommunication between the city of Newberg and the county that resulted in the error this month.
"In this case we did all of those things, but as you can see by the form sent to us by the city of Newberg, it was missing two very important words: "at-large," she said. "Due to the fact that we were not aware that (Newberg) councilors are nominated by district but elected at-large, we did not notice that anything that was amiss."
Further investigation after the fact, Hinton said, revealed a clue to where things went wrong: "The only place where we have found this missing piece of information is in Newberg's city charter, which we were not aware of."
Hinton pointed to the sudden departure of her predecessor, Brian Van Bergen, as well as little institutional memory in her office, as exacerbating the problem.
"In light of the situation of how things had been left here in the clerk's office, it is unfortunate that there weren't any employees who had been trained or helped with this task in the past," she said.
She added that since taking over the position last summer she has focused on cross-training office staff, while also getting up to speed herself.
"It is a tedious task because I am learning and I don't know what I don't know, as well as trying to figure out what staff knows and where they are lacking in training," Hinton said.
Secretary of State Shemia Fagan instructed Yamhill County to conduct a new election for the three council spots on or before Dec. 20, "in which all Newberg voters will receive a ballot listing all three City Council races."
The council votes cast on the ballot received this week will not be tabulated by the county, nor will the results be certified by the city. All other county and state contests and measures will be accepted by the county and processed.
The auxiliary ballots that will be distributed by the county for the three council districts will be limited to candidates who had qualified for the November general election ballot. The city and the county will coordinate to notify the affected voters of the three districts by mail, while a new Voters' Pamphlet will be mailed to city voters but will contain the same statements that appeared for the November general election ballot.
The candidates vying for the three spots on the council include:
District 2 -- Incumbent Peggy Kilburg vs. challengers Daniel Lindsey and Casey Banks.
District 4 -- Incumbent Mildenberger vs. challenger Robyn Wheatley.
District 6 -- Incumbent Stephanie Findley against challenger Derek Carmon.
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