Councilors file complaint after clerk releases race results online
A pair of Newberg city councilors have asked the state to compel a county official to follow an order issued after ballots mailed to city residents in late October were incomplete.
Councilors Jefferson Mildenberger (District 4) and Stephanie Findley (District 6) have filed a complaint with the elections division of the secretary of state's office claiming that Yamhill County Clerk Keri Hinton erred by releasing online the results of the three contested races for council, despite an order by the state to not post the results. Hinton removed the results less than an hour later Tuesday, but the councilors argued that by then the damage was done.
"In the Secretary of State's Oct. 21 order that directs the Yamhill County clerk to conduct a special election, it states, 'The county shall not report results for the Newberg City Council contests that appear on the Nov. 8 ballot,'" Mildenberger and Findley said in a release. "We understand the results reported the evening of Nov. 8 are in no way reflective of how a fair election would be determined. To Clerk Hinton's credit, new results were posted at 10:06 p.m. that omitted results for Newberg City Council races.
However, there is a lasting and damaging impact that is causing us to raise this complaint today."
The secretary of state's order came about Oct. 21 when it was determined that only residents of the three contested council districts received ballots that allowed them to vote for candidates from those districts, which is an error because although Newberg councilors represent specific districts, they are elected at-large, meaning all voters determine their fate. The state ordered that Yamhill County hold a supplemental election Dec. 20 and distribute ballots that allowed all the town's electorate to vote on the council races.
The councilors' complaint requests that the secretary of state pursue a court order that would compel Hinton to comply with the state's Oct. 21 directive.
"Any potential prejudice to the Dec. 20 special election for Newberg City Council must immediately be remedied," Mildenberger said. "Our city's voters deserve continued confidence in our elections, not repeated and preventable mistakes."
The pair added that their hope is that by filing the complaint it will enable the secretary of state's office to take further punitive action if Hinton and the county don't comply with the order.
"We believe the value in seeking this order is the ability to implement penalties to ensure Interim Clerk Hinton's future compliance," the councilors said. "We desire for the Oregon Secretary of State and/or the courts to be able to exercise the ability to order civil penalties to Yamhill County for any continued errors. It is our hope that this will facilitate the county's understanding of the gravity that these preventable errors have on the confidence of the electorate. Candidates and their campaigns are being adversely affected on an ongoing basis and general perception of election integrity is suffering, from continued permissive errors borne from Interim Clerk Keri Hinton's on-the-job training."
Hinton declined to comment on the issue, saying, "At this time I have not received the complaint from the Secretary of State's office, so I am unable to comment on anything related to it at this time."
Paige Barton, Mildenberger's campaign manager, said for the specific court remedy Findley and Mildenberger are seeking "a judge must make a decision withing five days of the complaint being filed under the statute."
"As this complaint pertains to an active election, I believe it will be a high priority for the SOS to address," Barton said.
Campaign manager targets blogger in second complaint
Barton also filed on her own behalf an election law complaint with the secretary of state's office this week. In it she called out Carey Martell, who operates a blog called the Yamhill Advocate and has been a champion for conservative causes and individuals. Martell has been especially busy over the past several months questioning Mildenberger, Findley and Mayor Rick Rogers' fitness to serve in elected office.
"Martell's blog focused almost exclusively on the Newberg City Council during September and October … and promoted outlandish, unsubstantiated and damaging allegations about sitting Newberg city councilors," Barton said in a release. "Martell alleged Mildenberger was a member of antifa. Martell alleged Findley has personally enriched herself as a councilor because she works in the Newberg community and that she seeks to indoctrinate children. Martell has alleged many other things, but nearly all of his posts are promoted and intended to benefit an opposing candidate."
Barton argues, therefore, that the state should examine whether Martell and the Yamhill Advocate should be required to register "as an independent filer or political action committee to operate in a manner consistent with our campaign finance laws."
Barton further alleged that via Martell's tweets and due to Yamhill County being one of the last counties to release election results Tuesday, voters may wrongly assume the council races have been decided.
"Because Mr. Martell's statements in the last 90 days have been about Newberg city councilors, and because results from these races were reported in violation of the SOS's order, this has caused a narrative to be built that Newberg City Council candidates have lost in advance of the Dec. 20 special election," Barton said. "Irrespective of Mr. Martell's speculation, we believe a real prejudice exists from the erroneous release of the Newberg City Council results that may impact how voters ultimately vote in the Dec. 20 election. It is a bell that ultimately can't be un-rung — we are concerned that other campaigns may advantageously use the reporting error to their benefit."
In her complaint, Barton asks the secretary of state to prohibit candidates on the ballot in the Dec. 20 special election from referencing in campaign communications or materials the results erroneously released by the county clerk's office on Nov. 8.
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