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November 5, 2012
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Ballot mix-up disenfranchises Douglas County voters

A ballot mix-up may have prevented some Douglas County residents from voting on all races or measures or improperly prompted them to vote for offices and issues that aren’t up to them to decide.

Late last week, county elections officials discovered that 221 voters were given the wrong ballot when they sought replacement ballots. The voters had recently moved or had lost or destroyed their original ballots.

Incorrect ballots were issued to voters throughout the county. No precinct had more than 1 percent of its ballots affected, County Clerk Patty Hitt said this morning.

Hitt blamed clerical errors for voters being given the wrong ballot. The matter has been reported to the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections in Oregon.

Secretary of State spokeswoman Andrea Cantu-Schomus said today the office is in touch with Douglas County elections officials and is monitoring how the clerk’s office will handle the mix-up.

The county issued 29 different ballots for Tuesday’s election.

“It was a matter of looking at a wrong number on the ballot” that caused the error, Hitt said.

Elections workers spent the weekend notifying affected voters of the mistake and giving them the opportunity to obtain another ballot.

“I truly apologize for any inconvenience we have caused the voters,” Hitt said. “We’re doing everything we can to take care of any inconsistencies.”

Ninety-four of the voters given the wrong ballots had already marked their choices and had their ballots removed from security envelopes and processed before the mistake was discovered, Hitt said. Once processed, it’s impossible to know which person completed a particular ballot, and they can’t be retrieved.

Votes cast by ineligible voters in city council races or on bond issues will not be counted. The scanner used to count the ballots will kick out each of those ballots. Four-member election boards will scrutinize the ballots and remove those votes before the ballots are reinserted into the scanner for counting, Hitt said.

Hitt said she was most worried about denying voters the chance to vote on an issue that did not appear on their ballots.

“I’m more concerned with that because I can’t do anything for them,” she said.

Hitt said that if the outcome of any election appears to have been possibly altered by the issuing of the wrong ballots, she will call for a special election.

Douglas County Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Hellenthal said the mix-up was unfortunate, but she said she is confident steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence.

“I’m sorry that it happened, but I’m sure the clerk’s office is doing everything it can to correct it,” Hellenthal said.

Douglas County Democratic Party Chairman Dean Byers said he hopes the mistake doesn’t cause any races or measures to be affected. He suggested the clerk’s office determine whether any of the 94 voters who already turned in their ballots were denied an opportunity to vote on any item and provide them with a ballot just for those items.

“They really should go to some extraordinary measures to ensure those voters’ voices are heard,” Byers said.

Clackamas County commissioners scheduled an emergency meeting today to discuss allegations of ballot tampering by an election worker. County officials have not disclosed the nature of the alleged tampering, but Willamette Week newspaper reported that the worker filled in bubbles for Republican candidates on ballots where certain races had been left blank by the voter.

• You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at jsowell@nrtoday.com.


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The News-Review Updated Nov 6, 2012 09:01AM Published Nov 6, 2012 07:10PM Copyright 2012 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.