Opinion: Clackamas County elections are foundation of democracy
A friend pointed out that our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," ends with a question mark. The question is whether or not the idea of democracy, our democracy, still exists. The idea is predicated on the consent of the governed, our will to be governed. This idea of ours, this democratic experiment, relies on people agreeing to and respecting government institutions.
Elections are a cornerstone. That foundation has been shaken several times lately. The most recent example is Clackamas County's misprinted ballots and delayed results.
Clackamas County commissioners took the situation seriously. The secretary of state did too. Both offered to assist the county clerk in doing her job. Thank you. Despite being spotlighted as a flawed system in the national media, our current county clerk does not seem to get the gravity of this error.
A leader assumes responsibility; Clerk Sherry Hall provided excuses. She even complained about media attention as part of the delay. My concern is that the current clerk knew weeks before the election that there were unreadable ballots, and Democratic ballots were impacted more than others, yet she chose inaction. Republicans in Clackamas County have a good idea of who will be their standard bearers and are working toward the general election; Democrats are disadvantaged.
On election night, I walked into the clerk's office to see what was happening. Usually, the first preliminary results would be posted a few minutes after 8 p.m. In past elections, there would be a buzz of excitement and anticipation. That night, there was silence. The staff had been sent home. Counting machines were still. The next night was the same. The weekend came and went. Again, the clerk was offered staffing assistance, and she chose to ignore the offers.
As described elsewhere, this is not the first serious election issue Clerk Sherry Hall has had under her watch. This county clerk is up for reelection. She should not be reelected. Her opponent, Catherine McMullen, has taken the time to educate herself and become certified on elections, and honors electoral integrity.
There are additional remedies that we ought to consider. One is to not have the clerk be on the ballot with everyone in the May primary or November general elections; a separate election could be overseen by an independent elections commission. That group could also hire a real professional assessment, an audit of the key process, and publish progress on steps taken to eliminate risks and implement remedies. There was at least one. I also know previous Clackamas County Commissions have provided the resources needed to improve the clerk's information technology and provide training and support to make sure the public's expectations are met.
As it should be, now it's up to voters.
Charles Gallia is an Oregon City resident and was a candidate in the May 17 election.
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