'It's not a job; it's a purpose.' McMullen eager for Clackamas clerk role
For the first time in 20 years, Clackamas County will have a new administrator overseeing elections and public records. West Linn resident Catherine McMullen unseated long-time Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall in this week's general election.
Hall's tenure as clerk, which began with her first election in 2003, has been marred by several mistakes and missteps throughout the years. Most recently, an error in ballot printing for May's primary caused a several-week delay in vote tallies.
McMullen, who moved with her husband and two kids to West Linn two and a half years ago, ran for clerk hoping to steer the county divisions back on course.
"I had been thinking about (it) and decided to run for sure after the May 2021 election and then declared in June 2021," McMullen said. "I knew it was time for new leadership."
McMullen initially began working as a voter education and outreach specialist for Multnomah County in 2015. Since then she has overseen more than a dozen elections as an Oregon Association of County Clerks-certified elections administrator.
A believer in voter education and clear communication with voters, McMullen feels the Clackamas County clerk's office hasn't prioritized these elements of democracy the same way she would.
"There is a lack of communication with the public and with voters out of the current office," she said. "Adding that communication and beefing up transparency will make a huge difference."
According to McMullen, the clerk's office needs to improve not just its communication with voters but with other government jurisdictions. Better communication from the clerk's office could have prevented the West Linn City Council election ballot error which has postponed the council election to March of next year, she said. Though the city of West Linn has taken responsibility for the ballot error, McMullen pointed out that state law gives the county elections office power to oversee elections of local jurisdictions. The clerk, she said, should provide "quality control" for municipalities like West Linn.
Having earned the support of current and former elected officials during her campaign, McMullen has a headstart on building relationships with other government agencies. McMullen's list of endorsements included several state legislators, more than a dozen city councilors and mayors, and electeds from local school boards and special districts.
Once she takes office, McMullen also looks forward to building up youth leadership in the elections process. She noted that youth programs throughout the country have successfully brought in young people to not only vote but serve as elections officials and observers.
With better communications and voter education, McMullen believes Clackamas County can lead the state in voter access.
"The community saw change needed to happen and saw in me someone who can put that into place and can turn things around and make sure our elections here in Clackamas County are top-notch," she said.
McMullen also said she would perform marriage ceremonies, including same-sex marriages, as clerk. Hall stopped marrying Clackamas County couples in 2014 after the state legalized gay marriage.
"I want to make sure that getting your marriage license is a welcoming and celebratory experience, no matter who you are," McMullen said.
McMullen looks forward to cleaning up the county's elections system and growing voter access and education.
"I really care about elections and election administration and making sure everyone has a voice. For me it's not just a job; It's a purpose."
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