Secretary of State Shemia Fagan shows her “Vote” tattoo
Secretary of State Shemia Fagan shows her “Vote” tattoo. (File photo by Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregonians might not know who won close races until several days after the Tuesday election, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan cautioned Wednesday.

Voters have been slower returning their ballots this year than in past primaries, and a new law means ballots that arrive within a week after Election Day but were mailed and postmarked by May 17 will be counted. That means county election offices may not have all their ballots until May 24. 

“In close races, it may take a few days before we know the unofficial winner because elections officials will still be counting all on-time and verified ballots,” Fagan said during a press briefing.

As of Wednesday morning, about 332,000 voters – 11.2% of those registered to vote – had cast their primary ballots. Turnout is typically lower in primary elections in non-presidential years, and only about one-third of voters participated in the 2018 primary. 

Fagan reiterated that Oregonians can trust the results of the election, even if they might not know those results Tuesday night. Ballots are mailed only to registered voters and cannot be forwarded. County clerks also take several steps to verify ballots before they are counted.

Fagan and election officials around the country have focused on combating misinformation about elections this year. She said so far she hasn’t seen any widespread attacks on the legitimacy of the 2022 primary, and election officials are trying to be transparent about any human errors. 

To that end, the Secretary of State’s Office alerted the public about a hack that affected a database used by a company that provides campaign finance compliance services for campaigns. The hack didn’t directly affect state data, but it included blocking access to passwords clients of C&E Systems used for ORESTAR, the state’s campaign finance reporting system. 

Election officials also highlighted a ballot printing error in Clackamas County and sent revised Voters’ Pamphlets to some Washington County voters because some pages were missing from the original. 

“The bottom line is that Oregonians can trust their election system,” Fagan said. “Our elections are secure and the ballots are going to be accurately counted, and the results are going to be accurately reported.”

Voters can check whether their county election office has received their ballot by checking the secretary of state’s website. Voters in Marion, Multnomah, Washington or Yamhill counties can also opt to receive texts or email alerts letting them know when their ballot has been received and when county officials have verified their signature on the return envelope.

Election officials compare every signature to ones in voter registration records. If a voter forgets to sign the envelope or signatures don’t match, those ballots are set aside and not counted unless the voter comes into an election office and signs their ballot or updates their signature within 21 days after the election. 

All county election offices are equipped with cameras that broadcast ballot handling, observers can watch the process and blue and black pens are banned in areas with open ballot envelopes.

This year, Clackamas County will have to duplicate a large number of ballots because of a printing error. The county has barcodes that identify which races are on a particular ballot, and many of those barcodes were blurred this year.

At least two election workers from different political parties will copy those ballot markings onto new ballots that can be read by machines. Damaged ballots remain paired with duplicate ballots, leaving a clear record for post-election audits. 

Deborah Scroggin, director of the state Elections Division, said counties can ask for an extension of time for processing election results, but Clackamas County doesn’t anticipate needing one. 

Initial election results will be published by counties and the secretary of state shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday. Counties will also post schedules online for when to expect updated results with ballots that were cast in time but took longer to count. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.