Secretary of State Shemia Fagan has requested a plan from Clackamas County elections officials after significant technical issues have resulted in continued delays in reporting Tuesday's primary results.
Fagan reassured voters Friday, May 20, saying "every vote will be counted." The prepared statement from her office comes after an estimated two-thirds of ballots in Clackamas County were printed with defective barcodes and were unable to be read by the machines that count them, requiring officials to hand copy them over.
Officials told KOIN 6 News that some elections workers had to count ballots by hand and manually send the data to the secretary of state's website, which kept them from reporting results on election night.
In a statement issued just before 11 p.m. that night, Fagan called the delays unacceptable, but said the process was secure.
The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners held an emergency meeting Wednesday, May 18, to discuss the issue, and officials said hundreds more workers were needed to finish counting ballots.
"We call this our elections wildfire," Clackamas County Elections Clerk Sherry Hall said during the emergency meeting as she vowed to accept help from other counties and the state. "We can't wait until it is out."
To combat the shortfall, county officials said they were reassigning up to 200 county employees to work in the elections office to help with the ballot count.
Fagan previously offered up elections workers from other counties to help with counting. Now, the secretary of state wants a plan.
On Friday, she blamed county elections officials for not acting with "appropriate urgency" ahead of the election and requested a written explanation how the county plans to use the extra resources and a detailed timeline.
"Unfortunately, Clackamas County Elections did not respond to this crisis with appropriate urgency during the past two weeks," Fagan said in the statement. "Voters and candidates deserve timely and predictable results, which we have not seen so far."
Hall said on Wednesday the elections office is quickly working to get the ballots counted by election certification day on June 13.
Voters concerned about the tallying process are invited to observe the proceedings.
Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon's 5th Congressional District, whose primary race still hangs in the balance while awaiting the results, said he will continue to monitor the situation. His office released the following statement Friday:
"We appreciate the monumental work done by the employees of Clackamas County in making sure all election ballots are being legally verified and counted. Voters in Clackamas County have a right to expect that the Election Division leadership maintains the highest standards needed to make the voting process accurate and without concern.
"We will continue to closely monitor the work being done at the County to ensure every vote returned to Clackamas County will be counted and that the ballot of every voter is tallied and reported."
On Thursday, Schrader's opponent, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, filed a complaint with the Oregon Secretary of State's Office alleging Clackamas County elections officials had given preferential treatment to one of his campaign observers.
Fagan's statement, also released Friday, can be read below in full:
"I know there are a lot of questions about the timing of elections results in Clackamas County. I want to reassure Oregonians that the process in Clackamas is accurate, secure and transparent.
"As your Secretary of State, I assure you that every vote will be counted. Every voice will be heard.
"Unfortunately, Clackamas County Elections did not respond to this crisis with appropriate urgency during the past two weeks. Voters and candidates deserve timely and predictable results, which we have not seen so far.
"County election officials have taken steps to staff up their operation on Wednesday and Thursday. We thank County Administrator Gary Schmidt and the County Commissioners for prioritizing this issue and making staff available to the county's election division. My office has requested a written plan from the County Clerk showing how these extra resources will be used and a detailed timeline showing that the work will be completed on time. "I am ready and eager to provide additional support as needed."
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.
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