OR: Observers keep sharp eye on ballot ‘enhancement’

By   /   November 9, 2012  /   News  /   1 Comment


Workers fix flawed ballots

By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog

BEAVERTON – The election might be over but workers in Washington County were feverishly making their way through stacks of flawed ballots on Friday.

Workers across the state are in the process of enhancing and duplicating ballots that were either rejected from machines that read the paper ballots or flagged by elections workers as being unable to be read by the machines, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.

And they were joined for the at least two-day process by observers from both sides of the political aisle who want to make sure the meticulous and tedious process is clean.

Ruth Bendl inched her chair as close to the table as she could. Elections workers at the Washington County office in Beaverton had sat her near the four workers, two Democrats and two Republicans, who were checking over ballots and placing stickers over mistakes. She wanted a better eye on them.

“When you’re sitting at the table they’re not going to do anything to get caught doing it,” Bendl, Voter Integrity chair for the Washington County Republican Party, said. “The last thing a cheater wants is to get caught.”

Ballot duplication and enhancement is one of the quirks of vote-by-mail, where voters get to fill out their paper ballots and mail them or drop them at a drop box by 8 p.m. on election day. Counties have 20 days after the election to certify results. Sometimes voters make mistakes and put an X through a bubble they didn’t mean to check, or they spill coffee and the machines reject them.

So paid workers thumb through the ballots – about 7,000 in Washington County, which is just outside of Portland – placing stickers over mistakes or re-doing the ballot altogether. At one table, a worker read aloud the votes to another worker who used a red daisy stamp to mark the choices. Then they switched roles and double checked them again.

Observers are allowed to sit on the sides of the tables, watching the process and basically just being there to ensure all is right.

Dee Ann Carter, a Washington County resident and member of the Democratic Party of Oregon, said she came to “trust but verify.”

County Elections Manager Mickie Kawai said it would probably take two to three days to finish the enhancement and duplication process.

There was some confusion Friday between the elections office and observers after Bendl was told three different times to be at the office for observation.

Kawai said officials thought Thursday evening it would take longer to finish opening and checking ballots sent from other counties and advised the observers to come later than originally planned. But work started in the morning after it didn’t take as long as expected to open the ballots.

Bendl was suspicious and planned to file a complaint. She said she had 24 observers scheduled to come but many had to drop out with the schedule changes.  She said there ought to be a set time that doesn’t change, “out of courtesy of those that are doing their civic duty.”

Kawai insists they are doing their best.

“I try to honor the observers but on the other hand, I have to keep the process moving,” she said.

A recent scandal in Clackamas County, another suburb of Portland, has brought attention to the potential for voter fraud. A temporary elections worker, Deanna Swenson, was fired earlier this week after the Oregon Department of Justice announced an investigation into alleged ballot tampering by Swenson, according to a statement from Clackamas County officials. She is accused of tampering with ballots to vote for Republicans. The state has identified six ballots as being altered.

“She’s drawn attention to what’s possible,” Bendl said, adding she is calling for voter reforms to include a better chain of custody for ballots that are dropped in drop boxes and the destruction of unused ballots after the election.

Though Carter said she thinks Swenson should go to jail, she does not believe ballot tampering is endemic.

“I think this whole voter fraud is grossly over sold by the mean and nasty.” she said. “I don’t think it’s that common.”

Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org, or follow her on Twitter @ShelbySebens. For more Northwest Watchdog updates, visit Facebook and Twitter.


Shelby formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.