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Saturday, December 10, 2022

Oregon Ballet fiasco exposes clerk’s troubled 20-year run

Oregon City, Ore. ( Associated Press) — Voters in an Oregon county where a ballot-printing error delayed primary results for nearly two weeks sent the same county clerk five in the past 20 years, despite missteps affecting the last two elections and costing bar is selected. Taxpayers less than $100,000.

Opponents have repeatedly tried to oust Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall, who was first elected in 2002, following election errors in 2004, 2010 and 2011 and a state vote-tampering investigation in 2012. Hall earns $112,600 a year in nonpartisan status overseeing elections, recording property transactions, keeping public records, and issuing marriage licenses. She is running for a sixth four-year term in November in the south suburban county of Portland.

The latest scandal in Oregon comes against the backdrop of a polarized political landscape in which vote counts are increasingly scrutinised. The race for local election clerks – who had recently worked hard in obscurity and relative anonymity – is receiving new attention, especially from right-wing voters who deny that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

Local elections are the first line of defense for the integrity of the major election, but most voters don’t know who their county clerk is, or even what they do, and choose to shun non-partisan races on Election Day. likely, or will simply choose the incumbent. Some county clerks are appointed, but in many counties in Oregon and elsewhere they see the whims of voters who are not paying attention, said Christopher McKnight Nichols, an associate professor of history at Oregon State University.

There is “myopia and invisibility” about this kind of office in American public life, he said.

Oregon’s status as the third-largest county underscores the importance of such competitions.

In the current election, thousands of ballots sent with blurry barcodes were rejected by the counting machine. State officials have said the issue affected Democratic and nonpartisan ballots more than Republicans. The fiasco forced the county to relocate about 200 county employees for vote tabulation duties; County officials do not yet know the full cost of the cleanup work.

For several days, activists have been shifting the intent of each voter from hand-wrapped ballots to a fresh one, in a painstaking process, a laborious process that may not take more than two more weeks. As of early Friday, more than 81,000 ballots out of more than 116,000 had been counted and about 35,000 defective ballots were yet to be counterfeited, according to county figures.

“It affects all of us. This is voter integrity,” said Janet Bailey, a Republican voter who, along with about a dozen others, protested outside Clackamas County election offices on Thursday. “We, in Oregon, have a We had our primary weeks ago, and we still don’t know the results.”

Hall was aware of the problem with ballots on 3 May, but did not take significant action until after the election on 17 May, when it became clear that the vote tally had been significantly delayed. Oregon’s Secretary of State has said that Hall refused offers of help from the state; At least one Democratic state lawmaker has called for a legislative inquiry into ballot manipulation.

Meanwhile, the results of several contests, including the much-anticipated Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, are inconclusive. And some voters are capturing the county’s problems by calling for an end to Oregon’s trailblazing vote-by-mail system and the use of electronic machinery to count votes.

“Our votes have to count,” said Clackamas County voter Cindy Hise, who wants to redo the entire primary. “This has been going on for several days. We have given up all hope of it being a true vote.”

Hall declined a phone or personal interview with The Associated Press for this story but said in response to emailed questions Thursday that she would cooperate with any investigation. He said he had no comment on calls from some people for his resignation.

She also addressed the many 2020 contributions she has made to the national Republican cause, saying in a brief email that she “maintains neutrality.” Donations to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and WINRED, a Republican Party fundraising platform, were all $100 or less.

“I have the right to free speech and to exercise association as a private citizen. I make small contributions to a large number of organizations,” she wrote. “I do not accept support of any kind.”

The controversy is nothing new for Hall, who has overseen county elections since taking office in 2003.

— In 2004, the county excluded three attachment questions on ballots sent to 300 voters and did not alert the public for 10 days.

— In 2010, a county commission race was listed on the primary ballot when it should not have been. Ballots were reprinted at a cost of over $100,000. Hall later filed a complaint with state election officials, saying that press “leaks” and public criticisms of him by county officials, including his primary vote, cost him the November runoff. .

In 2012, an election worker was caught tampering with two ballot papers and sentenced to 90 days in prison.

— In 2018, Hall put his name and county clerk title on ballot return envelopes and on voter information pamphlets while seeking re-election for the position, a decision critics called arrogant self-promotion in a tight race.

Hall said in his email that all election events “happened under my supervision” and that he or people in his office “took appropriate steps as necessary.”

Pamela White, who challenged Hall in 2018 and lost by less than 6,000 votes, said it seemed impossible to beat Hall even with such missteps. In that election, more than 52,000 voters left the county clerk race altogether, despite continued criticism of Hall’s election oversight and White’s endorsement by Hall’s recently retired election manager.

White spent $100,000 on the race, including $25,000 of his own, and campaigned for two years, she said.

“I worked very hard,” she said. “I knew what I was doing, but that down-ballot thing is an issue in your own party too. It blows out all the air in the room.”

Steve Kindred, a former election manager who supported White, said his relationship with Hall soured after a 2014 incident in which he asked him to work on his re-election campaign during office hours. Without telling what it was. He was later fined $100 for the lapse by state election officials. Kindred retired early.

Kindred said seeing ballot tampering now was a “punch to the gut” after experiencing a 2012 ballot tampering investigation.

“We had some hellish elections, not nearly as bad,” he said. “It’s almost like she’s frozen, like a deer in the headlights.”

For now, the county is focusing on getting the votes counted by June 13, the deadline for state election certification.

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Kline reported from Portland. Associated Press writer Andrew Selsky in Salem and Associated Press investigative researcher Randy Hershaft in New York contributed to this report.

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