Remember the 2000 election and the controversy over “hanging chads”? Voters in Florida at the time used punch cards to cast their ballots. But some voters didn’t punch the hole next to their candidate of choice hard enough, leaving a small piece of paper hanging free. The machine couldn’t count the ballots, leading to arguments over “voter intent.”

Echos from Florida in 2000 could be heard in Clackamas County, Ore., where blurred bar codes on the ballot prevented thousands of votes from being counted. To make matters infinitely worse, the independently elected county clerk, Sherry Hall, knew about the problem for weeks and refused all help in fixing it.

“The fact that they were behind in issuing results is no surprise,” Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith told OPB. “They have known about the blurred bar codes for weeks. They must take the steps necessary to correct this problem they knew about weeks ago.”

On Wednesday, other county leaders offered Hall help processing misprinted ballots, and seemed confused about why the problem had grown so large when they’d made similar offers of more resources well before the election deadline Tuesday.

Hall seemed miffed she had to give up a weekend to get the results of an election to the voters.

Commissioner Sonya Fischer said she’d asked Hall late last week to confirm misprinted ballots would be processed over the weekend but got no response. Hall told commissioners her team did not work over the weekend because not enough of them were willing to put in the extra time. Fischer suggested Hall had been reluctant to take help from other county leaders before election day.

“Our voters deserve to know. They deserve as quick results as possible,” Fischer said. “So I’d like assurance that our county elections office is now accepting the help and resources the county is offering.”

“As an independently elected official, she needs to say yes,” said Smith.

Hall told commissioners she was ready to accept help. “We are talking about working this weekend, and I plan to do that, but we need enough staff to do that,” she said. “I’m not sure if I can force them to work or if they have to be willing.”

Hall looks like a sweet old lady but is obviously in a job over her head.

When asked about help being offered from other county offices, she said that “interruptions” from the media made her job so, so very hard.

“The press really has been in the office a lot, and there’s just lots of interruptions,” Hall said.

Other county offices were offering their help as early as May 3. Why didn’t Hall accept that help? When you’re in that far over your head and are faced with a screw-up of monumental proportions, all you can do is stick your head in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong.

What’s underway now is the transfer of information from spoiled ballots to clean ballots.

The process will involve two people from differing political parties pairing up and transferring each smudged ballot’s votes onto a new ballot that can be read by a vote-counting machine.

One person reads the ballot’s votes aloud, and the other transfers the votes into a new ballot. Then they switch roles. Once they are content that the votes have been properly transferred to a new ballot, they feed it through a ballot machine. The misprinted ballot is then indexed and audited later.

This is a nightmare. It’s not a political or ideological nightmare. This is a nightmare of incompetence and malfeasance. Hall is an independently elected official accountable to the voters. She’s running for re-election in November and you’d hope Clackamas County voters are paying attention to this embarrassing incident.

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