Clackamas County Clerk unclear how Schrader’s campaign gained access to election office before it opened

Election results from Oregon’s third-largest county continue to come slowly, as Clackamas County election officials scramble with a voting error that left a major race up in the air.

A misprint on thousands of ballots in the county has left the Democratic primary for the 5th congressional district in limbo. In that race, incumbent U.S. Representative Kurt Schrader is currently losing to progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner. But the results cannot be finalized without votes from Clackamas County.

On Thursday, McLeod-Skinner filed a formal complaint with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, as reported Willamette Week – alleging that someone from Schrader’s campaign was allowed to observe the ballot counting process before the polls opened.

Hall told reporters that a Schrader campaign representative was admitted to the building around 7 a.m., but they shouldn’t have entered the building until it opened at 8:30 a.m. Someone of McLeod-Skinner’s campaign was not allowed into the observers’ area until after 8:30 a.m.

“It’s possible someone used their badge to get in and someone else followed,” Hall said. “It could have been someone who doesn’t work in the elections office.”

Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall speaks at a press conference Wednesday.

April Ehrlich / OPB

At Friday’s press conference, reporters asked Hall if it raised any security concerns with the vote count. Hall said all rooms in the building can only be accessed with security badges, and not all badges can access all rooms. Hall also said the room where the votes are counted was only accessible to her, the election officer and a third person, whose job title she could not recall.

The Observer Room is a long hallway where visitors can watch the ballot counting process through glass windows. Observers can only enter the building with a badge; a security protocol that appeared lax on Wednesday, the day after Election Day. OPB staff and other visitors were able to enter the observer room without badges, and no one required visitors to fill out an attendance sheet.

Still, Hall said observers should not be able to access the room where ballots are being processed.

More than half of the county’s ballots were printed with smudged barcodes, making them unreadable by counting machines. Clackamas County has redirected about 200 employees from other departments to help process them. The process requires people from different political parties to duplicate votes from bad ballots onto new ones and then run the new ballots through counting machines.

Election offices normally perform a “logic and accuracy” test with ballots to ensure they are machine-readable before Election Day. Hall said his office conducted the test on May 3, but did not test ballots run by a third-party printing company. Instead, his office printed the ballots in-house and tested them.

“Basically, we’ve always done this in the office,” Hall said. “So those ballots were good and the test came out perfect, but it was after that the same morning that we started running the ballots through the scanners, into the printer, and that’s that’s when we noticed the problem.”

Ballots wait to be processed at the Clackamas County Elections Office, May 18, 2022. A printing error on Clackamas County primary election ballots has caused unrest that will likely take weeks to to resolve.

Ballots wait to be processed at the Clackamas County Elections Office, May 18, 2022. A printing error on Clackamas County primary election ballots has caused unrest that will likely take weeks to to resolve.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

State and county political leaders criticized Hall for knowing about the ballot printing error two weeks before Election Day and not acting quickly enough to resolve the issue.

“I didn’t respond to that with the urgency I should have had and I realize that, but I still know we’ll get the count in time,” Hall said.

The county has until Certification Day, June 13, to fully reprocess the misprinted ballots and close the election results.

On Friday morning, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan asked the county provide a detailed Hall plan and schedule by Monday. Later that day, Hall said she would “maybe” meet that deadline.

“There could be things that could interrupt that,” Hall said.

These errors have collectively added to some voters’ distrust of the Clackamas County electoral process, and some fear that these errors were intentional. Hall said most of the affected ballots are likely Democratic ballots. Hall is an elected independent and she has shown a proclivity for conservative ideals. In 2014, in response to Oregon’s legalization of same-sex marriage, Hall refused to hold wedding ceremonies of any kind.

room Facebook page also “likes” a slew of conservative-leaning pages, including one titled “Donald Trump is my President,” a page that promotes Trump’s bogus claim that the 2020 election was rigged against him.

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