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Petitioners fail to put hand-counting on the ballot in Douglas County

Election worker Kristen Mun from Portland empties ballots from a ballot box at the Multnomah County Elections Division Tuesday, Nov. 3, 3030 in Portland, Ore.
Paula Bronstein
Election worker Kristen Mun from Portland empties ballots from a ballot box at the Multnomah County Elections Division Tuesday, Nov. 3, 3030 in Portland, Ore.

Three board members of the Douglas County Republican Party have so far been unsuccessful in getting a petition approved that seeks to force the county to hand-count ballots in future elections.

The group has submitted six petitions to the Douglas County Clerk since last year. According to County Clerk Dan Loomis, all have been denied. That means the group isn’t allowed to officially collect signatures. The latest proposal was denied in mid-October.

“The people have a right to have a petition on this subject,” said Myrtle Creek resident Terry Noonkester, one of the petitioners. “It seems to be a taboo subject.”

Noonkester is an at-large member of the Douglas County GOP board.

She argued that electronic voting machines aren’t transparent, and the machines can’t be checked by the public.

Oregon State Law requires voting machines to be approved by the Secretary of State. Elections must also be carried out with a team of experts in the fields of data processing, mechanical engineering and public administration. Voting machines are audited and checked for their accuracy as well.

“I just don’t think that power should be centralized,” Noonkester said. “Where one person is making a decision that I think belongs to the people. Whether the people feel that comfortable with the machines.”

County Clerk Dan Loomis said the latest petition didn’t meet the requirements of being a matter of county concern and being legislative.

“I’m not saying that hand-counting is good or bad,” Loomis said. “I’m just determining this petition that asks us to do hand-counting does not pass the constitutional test.”

Loomis declined to further define what those requirements mean: being a matter of county concern and being legislative. He said he didn’t want to provide legal advice to the petitioners.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, the terms “county concern” and “legislative” in this context don’t have official definitions, and it’s up to the county clerk to determine if the initiative meets state constitutional requirements.

The Oregon Secretary of State issued a directive last year that essentially bans hand-counting elections in the state. And state law defines how elections are run.

Hand counting has a place in Oregon elections, primarily as a means to check the results of a machine to verify its accuracy, Loomis said. Hand-counting often requires staff to sit at a table doing repetitive tasks for hours, which inevitably lead to mistakes, said Loomis.

Noonkester and the other petitioners could appeal their denial to Douglas County circuit court and have a judge decide on the matter. But, Loomis said they haven’t appealed any of the previous six denials.

Noonkester said they plan to challenge the decision, but with only seven business days to appeal, they have little time to draft a response.

“You start calling lawyers and you find out you don’t get to see the lawyer for a month or two, or they’re not even taking clients,” she said.

Loomis said he compares the accuracy of counting ballots with humans to his former career as an aircraft crash investigator.

“80-90% of all accidents are human error,” he said.
Copyright 2023 Jefferson Public Radio.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast. When not out in the field, Roman enjoys travelling and cross-stitching.