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Clackamas County election problems shouldn't keep happening

We can’t make this any clearer: We are tired of problems repeatedly happening with Clackamas County elections.

Once is too many and we are way beyond just a single incident.

Back in the May 2010 primary election, county Clerk Sherry Hall’s office misprinted ballots to include a race that were actually supposed to be on the ballot for the November general election. Cost to taxpayers? $120,000.

There were no allegations of wrongdoing in that case. Just wrong actions. But the incident never should have happened.

As bad as that was, it pales in comparison to the ballot tampering — or “manipulating” — that took place during the last two weeks going into the Nov. 6 vote-by-mail general election. At least six ballots were apparently manipulated, the state was called in to monitor the county election process and a temporary elections employee was sacked.

The tampering was discovered Oct. 31; the same day temporary worker Deanna Swenson of Beavercreek was relieved of duty. Swenson told Willamette Week that she only altered two ballots, reportedly filling in blank ovals for Republican candidates. While she remains only a suspect, if charged she would face a Class C felony.

As we listened to many of the voices of the Clackamas County electorate in those last few days leading up to Nov. 6, it was clear that there was no overall feeling of confidence about the ability of the elections office to count votes fairly.

Six tainted ballots? Why not 60 or 600? How do we know? How will we ever feel comfortable with this process? The original number of altered ballots was two on Nov. 5, and then grew to six by the next day.

“To date, Clackamas County, under supervision of my elections monitors, has identified six ballots that were potentially altered by the accused temporary county elections employee. The total number of ballots potentially affected is still under investigation by the Department of Justice,” Secretary of State Kate Brown said before the election.

County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan called an emergency meeting Nov. 5 as county and state officials scrambled to contain the crisis. Worried about the extent of the tampering, Lehan, who ended up losing her commission post, voiced the very real concern that she might challenge the ballots if the voting was close.

Interestingly — no, perhaps more tellingly — Hall chose not to attend the emergency county meeting, instead releasing a press release that said in part:

“On Wednesday, Oct. 31, my office reported an incident of apparent ballot tampering at the county elections office involving a temporary county elections employee.

“After this incident was discovered on Wednesday, I immediately reported this matter to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.

“The Secretary of State’s Office forwarded this matter to the Oregon Department of Justice to investigate possible criminal felony violations of Oregon’s election laws by the temporary elections employee.

“My office is fully cooperating with the Department of Justice and Secretary of State’s office with this investigation.

“At the request of the Department of Justice and in order not to jeopardize this ongoing investigation, I am not commenting further on the details of this investigation at this time.

“I do want to say that the Clackamas County Elections Division has very clear policies, standards and expectations for all full-time and temporary employees who handle and interact with ballots. Any tampering with ballots is absolutely inexcusable and unacceptable in my office and will be dealt with immediately, as was the case in this matter.”

That’s all fine. But the bottom line on any election is feeling comfortable that the ballots cast match up with the ballots counted, or more simply, that voters have confidence in the system.

We cannot blame those Clackamas County voters - including a group that already has considered launching a recall effort on Hall - for losing their confidence in Hall and her department.

We have. We are not fan of recalls, but clearly it’s time to make a change.




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