Portland Council candidate Loretta Smith wants audit of special election, citing ‘voting irregularities’

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Aug. 20, 2020 9:36 p.m. Updated: Aug. 21, 2020 7:31 p.m.

Smith’s campaign points to two discrepancies it noticed in voting data from the secretary of state’s office.

Loretta Smith greets supporters on Election Night, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Portland, Oregon.

Loretta Smith greets supporters on Election Night, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Portland. Smith lost a special election in 2020 to fill a vacant seat on City Council.

Erica Morrison / OPB

Loretta Smith, the former Multnomah County commissioner who recently lost an election to opponent Dan Ryan for a seat on the Portland City Council, said Thursday she wants an audit of the special election results.


In a letter to the director of the Multnomah County Elections Division and the Oregon secretary of state, Smith’s campaign points to two discrepancies it noticed in voting data from the secretary of state’s office.

The campaign wrote that the data shows a deceased person voted in the August election. Smith’s team also claimed nearly 14,000 voters cast a vote this year for the first time in at least five years, and that more than 11,000 of them were born on Jan. 1. The campaign said it consulted a statistician, who said that outcome is statistically very unlikely.

Smith’s campaign said it wants to confirm the election results, which had Ryan winning by about 5,300 votes.


“Due to the nature of statistical improbability that these voters are free from error or fraud, coupled with the quantity of voters being enough to change the outcome of the election, we are requesting that Multnomah County, in conjunction with the Oregon Secretary of State, immediately initiate a Risk-Limiting audit of the August 2020 Special election,” the letter reads.

There is one likely explanation for the birth date issue. In 2018, the state passed a bill that made it so the secretary of state could only release the year a voter was born — not the day or the month. So when the Democratic Party gets a voter list from the state, birthdays are now redacted. According to Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Junction City, the software commonly used by Democrats will automatically assign newly registered voters a Jan. 1 birthday.

After receiving the letter Thursday afternoon, Multnomah County Election Division Director Tim Scott said he did an initial investigation. He said while he understands the campaign’s concern, the findings might not be as alarming as they appear.

The person singled out in the letter by Smith as having died in December 2013 did not have their vote counted, according to Scott. He said someone in the person’s household had mailed in an envelope, with the word “deceased” written on it, and the office canceled the vote after finding an obituary. He added it’s not unusual for deceased voters to sit on election department lists for a while if officials are not notified of a death.

As for the 11,000 people with Jan. 1 birthdays who seem to have cast votes, Scott said that’s not what his department’s records show. Smith’s campaign, he said, seems to be basing its claim on “inaccurate data.”

“The list they have doesn’t match the voter registration record,” Scott said. “The first two people I looked up on that list, their birthday is not Jan. 1.”

In a statement, Smith’s campaign emphasized it had pulled its data directly from official sources and the campaign said it was waiting for a more thorough explanation. It didn’t responded to later inquiries over whether they found the change in state law pointed out by Fahey a satisfying explanation.

The campaign is also calling for an in-person review of the 11,000 ballot envelopes, a breakdown of the candidates for whom these ballots were cast, and a “comprehensive review” of the county’s elections security plan — all before the election is certified. The city expects certification to happen on Sept. 9.