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Blurry ballots in Clackamas County may delay primary election results

Election officials say the county's ballot-processing equipment is rejecting defective barcodes on some ballots. It's not known how many ballots are affected.

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. — Defective barcodes on an unknown number of primary election ballots in Clackamas County will likely delay election results on May 17, election officials said.

Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall said this week that an unknown number of ballots have blurred barcodes that can’t be read by the county’s ballot-processing equipment and election workers will need to fill out new ballots by hand for those voters before they can be counted. Oregon is a vote-by-mail state.

The county includes the southwest suburbs of Portland and parts of it are in the new 6th Congressional District, which was formed when Oregon gained a U.S. House seat following the 2020 Census. A number of Democratic and Republican candidates are vying to advance to November's general election in a closely watched primary.

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Election officials didn’t notice the printing error before the ballots were sent to voters, Hall said. The problem isn't expected to delay the vote tally significantly, but election officials won't have a good sense of how many ballots are affected until next week.

“We have plans and procedures in place to competently and correctly respond with this situation and many others,” Hall said in a statement.

“There is no better election staff than the one we have here in Clackamas County and we expect to meet all deadlines for the release of tallies and certification of results in spite of the increase in workload.”

At least two election workers registered with different political parties will participate in the transferring of votes to the new ballots and election observers will be present. The county will keep the damaged ballots on file.

It's not the first time the county has had elections problems.

Clackamas County drew national attention in 2013 when 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, The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported. A citizen committee that reviewed the situation found that Hall followed protocol, but still suggested improvements to prevent something similar from happening again.

Hall, who has held the elected county clerk position since 2003, is being challenged this year by Catherine McMullen, who serves as a program specialist for the Multnomah County Elections Division and is certified as an elections administrator. The race will be on the November ballot.

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