Clackamas County clerk: 'We're the gatekeepers of democracy'
Sherry Hall and Andrew Jones both believe that this will be a historic election for Clackamas County.
Hall, the county clerk, and Jones, county elections manager, appeared before reporters in a virtual press conference earlier today ahead of what's shaping up to be an exciting election night with implications at all levels of government.
"There's a real excitement in the air on election day," Hall told reporters. "We're the gatekeepers of democracy, and our workers all know the importance of it."
According to Hall, 234,779 ballots had been turned in by the end of the day Monday, Nov. 2, which means voters have already returned more than 76% of ballots, 5% more than what was received in 2018. For further comparison, turnout for the 2016 general election was a total of 81.7%. Clackamas County is within six percentage points of surpassing those 2016 returns.
"We feel very confident that we will surpass that percentage in this election," Hall said.
Results will be released by Clackamas County elections beginning at 8 p.m. this evening, followed by more batches of results at noon and 5 p.m tomorrow and each day following until all ballots are counted.
Hall said Clackamas County typically sees around 25% of ballots returned on election day, but she doesn't think that will hold true in 2020 due to the high volume of ballots returned early.
"Already things are very different than usual," Hall said.
Although voters have opted to vote earlier than what's typically seen in Clackamas County, it could still be a few days until the picture becomes clear for many races, especially those local races with just a few thousands voters.
According to Jones, the elections division — which had to hire fewer temporary workers this year due to COVID-19 restrictions — can scan and process about 30,000 ballots per day. At the end of the day Monday, 137,292 ballots had been scanned.
Hall said that if an additional 30,000 ballots are scanned Tuesday for a total of around 167,000, that could leave another 100,000 ballots or so to be processed throughout the rest of this week.
That means the results released on election night could change significantly as more ballots are scanned throughout the week and potentially beyond.
Jones also noted that there are about 1,000 ballots with signature issues — most commonly a forgotten signature or a signature that doesn't match the voter's most recent registration file. The county sends a letter to these voters to inform them they have until Tuesday, Nov. 17, to certify their signature and have their ballot counted in the official results. These ballots could be important if any county contests come down to a threshold within 1,000 votes.
Despite those 1,000 ballots with issues, Jones said, the county's signature rate is extremely good this election.
"There's been a lot of attention on the fact that voters need to sign their ballot envelope and with their normal signature that matches their voter registration card," he said. "So right now, our combined total of signature issues is less than .5%, so less than half of 1% of the ballots received have had signature issues."
Jones also took a moment to address some concern his office has heard from the public regarding the security of ballot boxes.
He explained that the process of collecting ballots involves two experienced election workers who are matched up with a partner of a different political affiliation.
When these two-person teams arrive at a ballot box, they unlock the door and work together to empty all those ballots from the dropbox into a transport box. They seal those transport boxes with numbered security tags given to them by the county elections office at the beginning of each run. When those teams get back to the office, workers verify the security tags, and they can receive those ballots for reception and processing with signature verification.
Jones said that county elections was lucky to have a test run of holding an election with the May primary rather than trying to adapt to a pandemic in the middle of a general election. The biggest change, according to Jones, is that they're operating with fewer people due to physical distancing requirements
"Really, vote-by-mail lends itself pretty well to operating in a pandemic," he said. "For (our workers), it's just kind of that slow and steady pace they're going through and constantly be reminded that we are in a pandemic so they need to be following those safety protocols and continuing to work slowly and carefully."
For more information or to read a comprehensive elections FAQ prepared by the county elections division, visit their website at www.Clackamas.us/elections. Voters looking to confirm their ballot has been received can do so by visiting www.oregonvotes.gov/myvote.
Ballots are due at your local ballot dropbox by 8 p.m. tonight.
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