Election results from Oregon’s third-largest county continue to roll in slowly, as Clackamas County elections officials scramble with a ballot blunder that’s 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. Rep. Kurt Schrader is currently losing to progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner. But the results can’t be finalized without Clackamas County’s votes.

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

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

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

A person with red hair and glasses speaks at a podium.

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

April Ehrlich / OPB

Reporters at the Friday press conference drilled Hall about whether this raised security concerns with the ballot count. Hall said all rooms in the building can only be accessed with security badges, and not every badge can access all rooms. Hall also said the room where votes are tallied can only be accessed by her, the elections manager, and a third person, whose job title she couldn’t remember.

The observer’s room is a long hallway where visitors can watch the ballot counting process through glass pane windows. Observers can only get into the building using 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’s room without a badge, and no one was requiring visitors to fill out a sign-in sheet.

Still, Hall said observers shouldn’t be able to access the room where ballots are being processed.

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

Elections offices normally run a “logic and accuracy” test with ballots to ensure they’re readable by machines ahead of election day. Hall said her office ran the test on May 3, but they didn’t test the ballots that were handled by a third-party printing business. Instead, her office printed the ballots in-house and tested those.

“Basically, we’ve always done that in-office,” Hall said. “So those ballots were good, and the test turned out perfect, but it was after that the same morning that we started putting ballots through the scanners, through the printer, and 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 led to turmoil that will likely take weeks to solve.

Ballots wait to be processed at the Clackamas County Elections office, May 18, 2022. A printing error on Clackamas County primary election ballots has led to turmoil that will likely take weeks to solve.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

State and county political leaders have criticized Hall for knowing about the ballot misprint two weeks before election day and not acting urgently enough to fix the issue.

“I didn’t respond to this with the urgency that I should have and I realized that but I still know that we will have the counting done on time,” Hall said.

The county has until certification day, June 13, to fully reprocess the misprinted ballots and close out the election results.

Friday morning, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan requested the county provide a detailed plan and timeline from Hall by Monday. Later that day, Hall said she would “possibly” make that deadline.

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

These blunders have collectively added to some voters’ distrust of Clackamas County’s elections process, and some fear that these mistakes were intentional. Hall has said most of the ballots impacted are likely Democratic ballots. Hall is an independently elected official, and she has shown a proclivity toward conservative ideals. In 2014, in response to Oregon’s legalization of gay marriage, Hall refused to conduct marriage ceremonies of any kind.

Hall’s Facebook page also “likes” a large number of conservative-leaning pages, including one called “Donald Trump is My President,” a page that promotes Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was rigged against him.

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