Blurry Barcodes Delay Oregon Congressional District Race Results

Blurry Barcodes Delay Oregon Congressional District Race Results
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) questions witnesses during a hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 23, 2020. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

A ballot printing error in Clackamas County, the third-most-populous county in Oregon, is delaying results of a key congressional primary race in the state.

Thousands of ballots with blurry barcodes have stalled vote counting in the primary for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, where seven-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader is facing a stiff challenge from progressive candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner.

As of May 18, Schrader was trailing in the vote count in a neck-and-neck race.

Of the 95,000 ballots that were returned by May 18, about 60 percent were rejected by the scanning machines, Clackamas County elections clerk Sherry Hall told The Associated Press.

On the night of the May 17 primary, the county had reported the results from just 10,356 ballots. Hall said she expects the tally to be completed by June 13, the last day to certify election results according to Oregon law.

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said that she is “deeply concerned” about the delay in reporting results.

“While I am confident that the process they are following is secure, transparent, and the results will be accurate, the county’s reporting delays tonight are unacceptable. Voters have done their jobs, and now it’s time for Clackamas County Elections to do theirs,” Fagan said in a statement posted to Twitter on May 18.

In recent days, Fagan’s office, along with officials from other Oregon counties, have offered to send extra personnel to Clackamas County to help with timely reporting of the results, she added. They are awaiting a response from Clackamas officials as to what help they could provide to speed up the processing.

Fagan said that she was disappointed in the perceived lack of urgency from Clackamas County.

Election officials discovered the printing error on May 3, but by that time it was too late to print fresh ballots, Hall said.

Starting May 19, about 200 Clackamas County employees will be reassigned for ballot duplication duties in two shifts, county Chairwoman Tootie Smith said during a news conference. The county had offered to provide extra staff to the elections department in early May when the ballot error issue came to light, but Smith said Hall refused the offer.

Hall, on the other hand, disputed the claim that she had not accepted help. The elections clerk pointed out that she cannot force temporary election workers to work on weekends.

“We’ve never had this happen before. We’ve never had to duplicate two-thirds of our ballots and it’s huge,” she said. “We’ve all just had a lot to do and we haven’t had time to sit down and figure (it) out, but we had time to do that today.”

Oregon is one of the five states that held primary elections on May 17, along with North Carolina, Idaho, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.