CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. — The race for county elections clerk doesn't often get the attention it deserves. Voters frequently skip over the non-partisan race when marking their ballots. According to the Oregonian, in Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall's last race in 2018, 52,000 voters left that contest blank on their ballots.
Hall has served as County Clerk for 20 years and is running for her sixth term in the November election on November 8th. But, unlike previous years, this election may bring more attention to the office. Hall made headlines for weeks following the May 2022 primary when blurred barcodes on ballots from the printer in Bend had to be duplicated by hand, delaying election results for two weeks. Hall said she's sorry about what happened but she couldn't have changed it.
'I feel horrible: but we didn't do it'
"I feel horrible, because since 2020 there's been so much distrust and we should be building trust in voters. And that is not what happened with this issue that came up. But we did not do it. It was done by the printer who's printed ballots for us for 10 years. And this is the first problem we've ever had with the printer," Hall said.
Catherine McMullen: 'I want to make our elections better'
Hall has an opponent in the November election who is making her first run for public office. Catherine McMullen is an elections administrator for Multnomah County with 15 years of public service and lives in West Linn. She said what happened in May with delayed results, and previous election errors in Clackamas County during Hall's tenure, prompted her to jump into the race.
"I have always been the person counting the ballots not the person on the ballot. But I wanted to make our elections better in the county where I lived and to do that I had to run for office," McMullen said.
Catherine McMullen and Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall were guests on this week's episode of "Straight Talk."
Hall makes her case for a sixth term
In spite of the May primary ballot fiasco, Hall said she deserves to be reelected and pointed to her decades of experience.
"I do have 20 years of experience. I don't get emotional about things that happened like happened in May. I don't fold under pressure. I can still do the correct and accurate work that is required, even though we had a lot of pressure with this whole May election," she said.
She also pointed to her experience with other facets of a clerk's job including handling property tax appeals, property records, and signing marriage licenses and domestic partnership declarations.
Hall: 'We finished on time'
As for the ballot counting mishap, Hall stood by her handling of the problem and said her office finished counting on time, by the state election certification deadline of June 13th.
"And we did finish on time because the period of time allowed by law between 8 p.m. election night and the date of certification is really to give us time to address things like this. We've never had anything of this magnitude ever. But we did finish on time," she said.
McMullen: 'I would have... treated it like the emergency it was'
Her opponent, McMullen, said she looks at what happened in the Clackamas County May primary in two parts; prevention and response. She said one way to prevent a problem like blurry barcodes is to do what many other counties do and send a staff member to supervise the printing of ballots at the vendor before materials go out to voters. As for a response once the problem occurred, McMullen said she would have treated it as an emergency from the start.
"I would have worked with the county and other state elections administrators to bring staff together... And worked that into the schedule, so that we were treating it like the emergency it was from the beginning of knowing about it, rather than waiting until we had very few election results on election night and it became what was seen as a crisis by the public," McMullen said.
McMullen would restart officiating marriages-including same-sex ceremonies
County clerks in Oregon have the authority to officiate civil weddings which Clerk Sherry Hall did until 2014, when the state made same-sex marriage legal. Hall said she believes in marriage between one man and one woman and stopped performing marriages all together.
Her opponent, McMullen said if elected she would begin officiating weddings once again in the Clerk's office.
"I think it's important we are clear that we are welcoming to the whole community no matter who you love and who you are, and I would officiate weddings again for everyone, McMullen said.
Clackamas County Special Election error
Voters in Oregon City and the Oak Lodge Water Services Authority have started getting their ballots in a special election on August 23. And there appears to be a mix-up in this election. Some voters have notified the Clackamas County Clerk's office they received the wrong voters' pamphlet insert. Hall said some of the inserts may have been mixed up in the mail house.
"We have gotten calls in the office today and we are sending the correct voters' pamphlet to each voter that asked. It's also on our website. So anyone can check there if they want to read it now," she said.
Pitch to voters
Hall said her race has been politicized and said anyone who has questions can contact her by email or phone. Hall's email Sherryhal@clackamas.us Phone 503-655-8551.
"Anyone who wants answers to questions that have come up here can email or call me and I can talk with them about each separate piece. I love the work of the clerk and I just hate the politics. And this has been so politicized," Hall said.
McMullen said she's not a politician and would never run for any other office, but for the job of elections clerk, because the elections work is so important to her.
"For me, it's really important we have trusted, accurate, and transparent elections moving forward. And that the elections are safe and secure and that we can officiate weddings for everyone," she said.
Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Straight Talk is also available as a podcast.