BREAKING: Ballot tampering in Clackamas County? Investigation underway.

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Once again, the Clackamas County Elections office is the site of bad things happening. A criminal investigation is underway:

From the Oregonian's Yuxing Zheng:

The Oregon Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into possible ballot tampering at the Clackamas County Elections Office.

"We can confirm we are currently investigating criminal felony violations of Oregon’s elections laws, which allegedly took place in Clackamas County and allegedly involved a temporary county elections employee tampering with cast ballots," said Jeff Manning, spokesman for the Department of Justice.

Willamette Week's Nigel Jaquiss reports allegations that it was a partisan act:

Sources familiar with the incident say their understanding is that the woman filled in a straight Republican ticket on the ballots where preferences had been left blank by voters.

And now, Clackamas County Chair Charlotte Lehan - facing a tough election fight against right-winger John Ludlow - is threatening legal action. From the O:

"This is clear voter fraud," Edmonds said. "Clackamas County might not be the best body to handle the election process." ...

"With our polling saying the race is in a statistical dead tie, we’re very concerned about these allegations, so we will be taking very decisive actions to try to protect Charlotte," Edmonds said. "It's incredibly disconcerting to us, and we'll take whatever steps are necessary to make sure it's a fair election, because this throws it all into doubt." ...

"From our perspective, Charlotte is the most vulnerable person in a case of downballot filling-in because the undervote is so high in these county commission races, typically 30 percent," Edmonds said. "It leaves open a huge margin of room for somebody, such as an election workers, to sway an election."

Clackamas County elections - and the elected Clerk, Sherry Hall - has long been at the center of allegations of mismanagement and bending over backwards to help Republicans. But this is much worse.

Of course, Clackamas County is ground zero for the fight by the Tea Party - and their corporate pals in the Oregon Transformation Project. Check out this week's WW cover story - "The King of Clackistan" - for background.

Update, 10:45 a.m.: It appears that the good folks at Our Oregon anticipated problems at Clackamas County:

This isn’t the first scandal to come out of Hall’s office, which is why days ago (even before this latest evidence emerged), Our Oregon filed a public records request to demand deeper scrutiny of the office because of past high-profile elections irregularities.

After years of seeing costly, suspicious foul-ups and voting irregularities in Clackamas County, Our Oregon demanded under Oregon Public Records Law (ORS 192.410 to 192.505) that all video tape files taken of the elections office where ballots are processed be preserved for review. The records request includes round-the-clock footage, plus records of anyone signing into and out of the balloting facility. ...

“Sherry Hall has become Oregon’s own Katherine Harris,” says Patrick Green, executive director of Our Oregon, referring to Florida’s controversial former Secretary of State. “We are putting her on notice that we’ll be watching."

"She clearly has the means, motive and opportunity to interfere in the fair administration of the election," Green added.

Stay tuned. More to come.

  • (Show?)

    This would be election fraud, wouldn't it? This is one person affecting multiple votes to sway the election vs. one or more people voting illegally. I know it seems petty but the words are important because if it is defined poorly now, the defining this wrong now can be turned on us to sneak voter ID and other misleading ballot measures through.

  • (Show?)

    Wow! With the kind of ballot we have, is there any way to determine how many ballots are tampered with and what the true vote should have been?

  • (Show?)

    Kate Brown refuses to audit these processes on the campaign trail. Came back to bite her. Why do we continue electing people who refuse to proactively secure our elections processes? Now the left is the side complaining. LOL.

    • (Show?)

      You would think that with the history of problems in this office that our state elections officials would take care in monitoring what is going on. One more failure on the part of Kate.

      • (Show?)

        See my reply to Carla below. It is my view, specifically, that processes and not penalties, are what secure our elections. In this case the penalties did nothing to prevent this wholesale and egregious violation of our ballot counting process.

        It's not personal. I've been advocating that we open up our security processes and increase the security of our ballot counting processes for years only to be ignored. This is about the issues, and in this case, it's an extremely important issue that happens to have led to a Republican manipulating clearly weak processes.

        The county is also to blame here, I am not discounting that, but the whole point of being a chief elections officer is to take ultimate responsibility for the conduct of our elections. As our statutes provide a process for the Secretary of State to force proper security procedures be created and as other statutes show that the Secretary is the chief elections officer and they must comply with the Secretary's direction (and if they do not comply they may be sued in court -- there are other statutes on that), it is clearly something the Secretary should actually be doing.

        Remember that the Secretary has been asked to do more oversight of this office by many officials and activists and though they sent some observers, nothing has fundamentally fixed the major problems in the office. I'm not saying Hall is not incompetent either. I'm saying this situation happened because our two layer process has two different incompetent administrators. To be fair though, I should point out that Hall did turn them in so there appears to be some process that caught it -- although really too late based on comments about not knowing how widespread the problem ended up being.

        I'm not going to go easy on Brown because she's a registered Democrat though. That would not get the reform we need to ensure our elections are taken seriously.

    • (Show?)

      LOL at anything related to election fraud? Hmm, that doesn't sound like leadership I can believe in. Thanks for narrowing my choices in the SOS race.

      • (Show?)

        The election fraud (not voter fraud since it wasn't the voter who did it, but someone else) was at the county level, not the SOS level. The SOS office immediately did everything it could to get an investigation going through the DOJ.

      • (Show?)


        Security processes are filed with the state and are not public, so only the Secretary of State gets to review these things and as such, citizen activists like me do not have the ability to transparently evaluate individual election security procedures, despite claims that election processes are transparent. They really aren't. Here's the current law:

        The SOS gets to approve the processes. If they are insufficient then it is the county that bears the costs of making them adequate. In this case the county would bear the costs.

        • (Show?)

          So as far as you know, the Secretary of State has in fact reviewed the process, found it appropriate, but Clackamas County didn't follow it.

          Based on my understanding, it is against Oregon statute to have someone handling ballots outside of at least two other people in the room who are of different political affiliations. It seems fairly evident that this didn't happen in this case.

          Within this context, it would appear that Clackamas filed a security plan and didn't follow it. Further, it appears that volunteers were allowed to handle ballots outside the law. That's a Clackamas County Elections Office violation, not the Secretary of State.

          • (Show?)

            Part of a security plan is how you are actually going to ensure the fundamental parts are followed. If they did not follow the plan, the Secretary can take legal action against them which we have not seen yet. Since these are confidential plans we have no way of knowing what was in these plans, even your assertion that they were following statutes.

            Perhaps the problem is the plan just made assertion of what would be done with no actual plan of execution. That in itself is an incomplete plan, as stated.

            The Oregonian just reported that the elections observer the state sent in is going to be reviewing their security plan (something that was supposed to happen before the election as a requirement of their being able to count ballots). Clearly even the state thinks that plan is insufficient now. They have it on file. We cannot see it per law.

            I suspect what happened is the security plan was not reviewed properly based on the state's continued incompetence, otherwise a review of their security plan wouldn't be necessary. For another example of her incompetence released today by Bob Wolfe: Brown's recent letter to the postmaster general instructing them not to deliver ballots without a second postage stamp if they are barely overweight, which hurts rural Republican voters. The postmaster told her that it would be against their policy and she didn't have the authority (case law was cited) to restrict their policy ensuring every ballot is delivered and potentially counted.

            Brown's administration is an embarrassment to Oregon and Kate needs to go. Simple as that.

            • (Show?)

              Progressive Party is lying in its teeth about the letter to the Postmaster General. It was not sent by Brown, but by Elections Director Steve Trout, to whom P.G. Patrick Donahoe's Oct 31 reply is addressed.

              Meanwhile, on October 26, long before Donahoe's reply, The Oregonian reports that Brown "had Trout send" an email to all county elections officials directing them to accept and process all ballots received with insufficient postage. It also reports Brown advocating that ballot return envelopes be made postage paid, which which I agree.

            • (Show?)

              "If they did not follow the plan, the Secretary can take legal action against them which we have not seen yet."

              Haven't seen legal action yet? What do you call contacting the DOJ to have a criminal investigation opened? You have to do the investigation first, and then legal action comes next. And that is done by the DOJ.

    • (Show?)

      Sorry Seth but you have this one wrong. The SOS has an election monitor at the Clackamas Elections Office as they did in 2010.

  • (Show?)

    Sounds like SW Portland in the '68 Morse-Packwood race- precincts with many ballots only Packwood voted on the entire ballot.

  • (Show?)

    My God, I just can't fathom some clerk or other staff in an election office being willing to risk a felony conviction to do some idiotic thing like this.

      • (Show?)

        Yeah, I suppose, Jack. But the risk/benefit factor here seems awfully weighed against such activity, as it should be.

        • (Show?)

          Market theory to the contrary, people are not always very good at weighing short vs. long term risks vs. short term vs. long term benefits. This may be a story of short term gratification trumping the long term risk, or maybe something sadder in terms of psychology, at the level of motivation.

          Or it could prove to be something about organizational culture that led to bad evaluation of risks and rewards, I suppose.

    • (Show?)

      You must have missed the Transformation Project crazies at the BCC meetings all this year. They are NUTS.

  • (Show?)

    I am pretty sure that when the GOP raised the issue of voter fraud, this isn't what they were hoping to find.

    • (Show?)

      There is a differece between voter fraud and ballot tampering.

      • (Show?)

        I've toured the state on bicycle talking to people about elections. The tea-party types scared about election fraud in this state are more concerned about biased election workers than immigrants. The more moderates and liberal types concerned about elections typically are also very concerned about elections offices having political or partisan bias and computers made by right-wingers running the system.

        There are lots of concerns about our elections processes in this state, which is why I find it odd that Kate is essentially saying "nothing to see here please move along" every time it is brought up in forums. Everybody else is saying, "there's probably nothing to see, but we really won't know without reviewing our processes and making sure they are rock solid." There's no fear-mongering. Instead, it's a rational approach to the Kerckhoffs-Shannon Principle: "The enemy knows the system." In this case that turned out to be true.

        Now that computers are involved especially, we have to follow the standard security principles we've learned from computer science. If we don't, failures like this are bound to happen. Plus, with transparency comes increased confidence. The algorithms your ATM uses to encrypt the data are all published and approved of by cryptographers around the world. Anybody can try to break AES, for example. But they can't, that's why we know it's good.

        We can do the same with elections processes. But Kate refuses to.

  • (Show?)

    I think we all have to admit that this incident proves that Voter ID proponents were right all along. Oregon doesn't have a Voter ID law, and now we learn that there's been a clear case of election fraud here. Case closed.

  • (Show?)

    wow. whole lotta conclusion jumping up in heah...

  • (Show?)

    Until I hear anything beyond what has been currently publicized--the county elections office has reported potentially criminal activity by a single temp election worker--I refuse to go witch hunting with this. It certainly seems like an odd strategy to mess with the election, if there's an implication somehow that Hall both let it happen and then reported it before the counting began. Those sound like opposing motives to me. The office has a pattern of irregularities that definitely warrants a broad review. Beyond that, I want to urge my fellow progressives to resist the urge to find a knee-jerk scapegoat based on partisan feelings. Let's wait and see what is further revealed, yah?

    • (Show?)

      The votes will be counted on Tuesday, Mark.

      • (Show?)

        Right, and today is Friday before that Tuesday. It was reported before the counting began. Is that in dispute?

        • (Show?)


          Sherri Hall may or may not had foreknowledge of the tampering. No way of knowing at this point. She surely was incompetent, as procedure is required to be in place to prevent such tampering. The temp worker accused of altering ballots may be a lone zealot, but that does not seem likely to me. Suggesting Republican operatives have some hand in this is speculative, but it's clear that someone with a strong interest in electing Republicans is involved, whether it is the temp worker or someone who induced him/her to tamper with ballots.

          Integrity of the election is the highest priority, but that may be impossible to maintain if this elections worker had access to many ballots, or if Hall's procedure would have made it possible for others to alter ballots before counting.  It may take a new election to be certain the votes are counted as they were cast.
  • (Show?)

    Please forward to Clackamas County friends:

    Who Is John Ludlow?

  • (Show?)

    Tom, what procedure could prevent this from happening? An election worker tampers with ballots, and was caught by the observer who is there to make sure this kind of thing is detected.

    The process can't prevent some idiot from trying to change ballots. But it can (and apparently did, in this case) catch the person.

    For all we know, the person was caught on his or her first attempt at tampering with a ballot.

    • (Show?)

      As Stacy wrote, we have no idea how long the tampering went on, or if only one worker was involved.

    • (Show?)

      Rob, thanks for trying to minimize the issue. I'll assume it's the official line of the Wackpublican party. Just answer one question, how long did y'all plan this strategy?

    • (Show?)

      Based on what I heard from this morning's meeting, what could be done is for workers to be literally searched before entering the secure area. The area has only flourescent pencils for marking, which cannot be read optically. Apparently the suspect brought in her own pencil. Do a search, and I'm not sure how this happens otherwise, in a lone-wolf situation as this appears.

  • (Show?)

    Is there any update on the investigation?

  • (Show?)

    Rob, I think saying its they could have been caught on "first attempt at tampering" is the total point. We just don't know. This person could have been doing it for years. To me, it seems if they felt comfortable enough doing it, they may have done it before, maybe many times. What's the culture of Hall's office? We know there's been other "mistakes' - There have been some Very close races in Clackamas the last few cycles where D's have lost by less than 300 votes. I hope there is a full investigation of the office, not just this worker.

  • (Show?)

    Oregonian has the story up on page one of website:

  • (Show?)

    It seems that the only way to assure a fair election in Clackamas County would be to sequester all ballots returned before the ballot tampering was discovered and mail new ballots to all voters who are included in that number. We know who they are because their names were checked on the voter register before their ballot envelopes were opened and could have been subject to tampering. It would delay the Clackamas results a week or two, but at least the electorate could be certain that a fair election was conducted.

  • (Show?)

    Ar last! Merit in procrastination! This is incentive to turn in those ballots at the last minute, for sure. Now I'm glad mine hasn't been turned in yet.

  • (Show?)

    I've read all the posts and here are some observations.

    Seth Alan Woolley continually attacks Kate Brown but never explicitly declares he's running for the office. That makes his motives appear self-serving.

    Seth, as much as he tries, doesn't know election law and the duties and responsibilities of both the S of S and County Clerk, the security plan, etc. If he did, he would be holding Deanna Swenson and Sherry Hall solely responsible. It happened in Hall’s office.

    The real scandal is this event may turn out to be how Swenson was hired.

    Voter suppression and outright election fraud was widespread this election. Suppression was one-sided, committed by GOP supporters, legislatures, governors, election officials (Jon Husted, Rick Scott, etc.)

    Strategic Allied Consulting, a voter registration firm working for the Republican National Committee and numerous GOP state parties, has been caught committing election fraud in several states. Its owner, Nathan Sproul, has been going it for the GOP since at least 2004. He keeps getting caught yet the GOP continues to rehire him.

    It was a Sproul run company that destroyed Oregon Democratic voter registration forms prior to the 2008 election. Late last year, Mitt Romney hired Sproul as a paid "political consultant."

    Those who defend, shift the blame, or try to justify these actions even (it's happened before, Dems do it, etc.) dishonor all Americans, including those who've fought and died for democracy abroad.

connect with blueoregon