‘It is my responsibility’: Clackamas County Clerk addresses ballot counting delays

OREGON CITY, Ore. (KGW) — As a long election night stretches into an election week, Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith on Wednesday said delayed election results because of a printing error on ballots is an “all hands on deck moment” that the county plans to tackle with “vigilance.”

The delay in results stemmed from a printing issue with the bar codes on thousands of ballots, making them appear either too light or too blurry, which caused election machines to reject them. By the end of the night on May 17, the county reported just 10,356 votes, but no percentage of total results and no updated number of ballots cast since Monday.

The fix has been two-person, bipartisan volunteer teams that have been duplicating the faulty ballots and entering them by hand to make sure they count.

In a statement issued late Tuesday night, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan criticized the delayed results.

“As Oregon’s chief election officer — and a Clackamas County voter — I am deeply concerned about the delay in reporting from Clackamas County Elections tonight,” Fagan said. “While I am confident that the process they are following is secure, transparent and the results will be accurate, the county’s reporting delays tonight are unacceptable. Voters have done their jobs, and now it’s time for Clackamas County Elections to do theirs.”

Asked if she took personal accountability for what happened, Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall said on Wednesday, “I am the clerk and it is my responsibility …  and I absolutely don’t like what happened, but it did happen, so we had to come up with a solution.”

On election day, Hall told reporters her top priority was getting the election done accurately and on time.

“Accuracy is way more important than speed,” she said.

As for the seeming lack of urgency on Hall’s part to prepare for a problem she’d known about for weeks, Hall said several factors played a part.

“We have spent a lot of time just kind of trying to figure things out,” said Hall. “There’s been a lot of interruptions too, the press has been in the office, lots of interruptions but this is going to go better from tomorrow, on.”

In a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith criticized Hall for not immediately accepting the administration’s offer to have county staffers to help with ballot duplication, despite knowing about the problem weeks in advance. Smith said the Secretary of State and other county elections offices have also offered up staff to assist, but said it’s up to Hall to accept.

Smith said the county has offered 1,000 employees from other departments to help, many of whom volunteered. She said other jobs are on pause until the work is done.

“It might have an impact, we’ll just have to see. But this is the number one priority right now and we have to do it,” Smith said.

Crews will work in two shifts from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day to duplicate and count the ballots until the work is completed, Smith said. As of Wednesday, there was no timeline for the work to be completed. The work is slow and tedious, Smith said, and to ensure accuracy employees will not work back-to-back shifts.

“We are doing it by the book and anyone who wants to can come in and watch it,” said Hall.

Many voters did, including Suzanne Westfall. She spent hours watching volunteers from the observation room.

“If they’re having people from multiple parties observing, then I’m good with it,” Westfall said.

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