Inside the Counting Room: Oregon County Details Steps After Ballot Tampering Conviction


[Image courtesy of OregonLive]

Clackamas County, OR recently released a report detailing new steps to prevent ballot tampering after the county received some unwanted scrutiny last year. OregonLive has more:

Two ballots were disqualified in the November 2012 election, after a temporary elections worker filled in races left blank on two ballots for Republican candidates. Deanna Swenson, 55, received 90 days in jail and three years’ probation for her actions. She also had to pay $500 in fines and to repay the Oregon Secretary of State’s $12,997 bill for investigating and prosecuting the case.

Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall has already implemented several changes recommended by the report:

  • + The tables where workers open and inspect ballots are now perpendicular to the observers who monitor the workers. Previously, the tables were parallel.
  • +The temporary election workers must take an oath that encompasses every task they could perform. Previously, the workers took an oath only for the task they were assigned.
  • + The Secretary of State required all counties use distinctive ink pens to process ballots after ballot tampering in Clackamas County. Swenson used a pencil she brought in herself. The county’s elections office chose green or purple ink.
  • + The number of supervisors for ballot processing increased, so one supervisor is in charge of only five tables now. A fellow volunteer ballot processor caught Swenson marking ballots and reported. But, Hall said more supervisors should deter future wrongdoing.
  • + Processing teams are made up of workers from different political affiliations, by protocol. Now, every person from the team must be present at all times for processing to continue. So, the members of the team must stand until everyone is at the table, then they may sit. If someone gets up to leave the table, everyone must stand immediately and wait until the person returns to resume.

Interestingly, the County is also considering a greater technological presence in the counting room:

Hall also wants card readers installed inside the processing room by the May 2014 primary, so workers must swipe in and out. Currently, they only swipe in.

The committee is also discussing installing cameras in the processing room. The elections office has cameras in the tally room, at the front counter and at the entrance and exit doors.

No one would watch the cameras in real-time, nor later, unless an allegation of ballot tampering arose.

Hall said even in offices with cameras, the setup wouldn’t detect the kind of tampering that happened in Clackamas County. Also, the positioning of the cameras must be such that they don’t show the ballot markings, in case someone makes a public records request for the film and tries to determine who voted which way.

“Nevertheless, since cameras would give us the ability to follow up on wrongdoing, it makes sense to have cameras in the ballot processing area,” Hall said.

In a jurisdiction like Clackamas where all ballot are cast by mail and therefore counted at a central level, these precautions make sense. Kudos to Clerk Hall and the County for being willing to rethink their processes in the wake of last year’s controversy.

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