Elections, News, Washington County

County Elections Division talks transparency, staffing in advance of 2024 elections

According to a report commissioned by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, county election offices throughout Oregon are understaffed and underfunded headed into the 2024 election cycle.

The report, conducted by Reed College’s Elections & Voting Information Center, saw researchers review information and interview staff from 34 of Oregon’s 36 counties, including Washington County .

The report gave a statewide look at challenges facing county elections staff; this newspaper asked a series of questions drawn from the information in the report of the Washington County Elections Division, which oversees elections for voters in Banks and the rest of the county.

In an email, Washington County Elections Manager Dan Forester laid out staffing levels at the county, broke down how the division is seeking to reduce errors in the local elections process. Most recently, the division inadvertently sent ballots for Tuesday night’s election to voters outside of the Cornelius Rural Fire Protection District received ballots, a mix-up the county said was caused by a database error.

“These voters have been notified and those ballots will not be counted,” the county said on their website.

During the 2020 general election, Washington County inadvertently left information and arguments for a measure to allow recreational cannabis dispensaries in the city of Sherwood out of the voters’ guide. A supplemental guide, at the cost of around $3,000, was drafted and mailed to Sherwood households

The measure passed. That same election, the county also made errors in the actual ballot mailed to the county’s 384,569 registered voters.

Random “yes” and “no” statements placed in the explanation text of four statewide measures on the ballot were caused when text from a .pdf file was converted, copied and pasted into the software used by the county to design the layout of the ballot, the county told this newspaper in 2020.

Then-Washington County Elections Division Manager Mickie Kawai retired after the primary election in 2022 after 34 years in the elections division.

A replacement, Dan Forester, was hired in June of 2022.

“A core goal of the Washington County Elections Division is to deliver error-free elections for the community,” Forester said.

He said the elections division incorporated double-checks and proofing steps into every process.

“In the event that a mistake should happen, we believe that honest, timely and proactive communication is the best way to maintain trust with the public,” he said.

Forester added that their office believes “transparency is the best policy” when it comes to maintaining public trust in the electoral process, and urged anyone with questions to contact the division to learn how they administer elections and even schedule a facility tour.

The elections division is staffed year-round by ten full-time elections administrators, bolstered by temporary staffing of up to 200 additional employees—many who have worked for several years for the elections division—during high-turnout elections like the upcoming 2024 presidential election.

And while the report found threats and harassment against election workers was growing, Forester said that hadn’t been the case in Washington County.

“Thankfully, Washington County Elections staff have not experienced the sort of harassment that we’ve seen reported from other parts of the country,” he said.

He said that the county was prepared to keep their workers, and the electoral process, “safe and secure.”

“Our staff are conscientious, detail-oriented workers who care deeply about the work they do for the community,” he said.

And, for those who want to get involved, a temporary job listing can be found online. Applicants can view a range of seasonal jobs, including roles in picking up ballots, traveling to assisted living facilities to aid residents with voting, to counting ballots and more.

The Washington County Elections Division can be reached by phone at 503-846-5800, by email at [email protected], and online at www.washingtoncountyor.gov/elections.

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Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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