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Oregon and political action committee settle voting case

March 9, 2019
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2018 file photo, a voter in Lake Oswego, Ore., places her ballot in a designated drop box outside City Hall. Days before last November's elections, members of a political action committee in Oregon went door-to-door in Portland and its suburbs and collected filled-in ballots from voters, saying they'd mail them in. But about 100 of those ballots were mailed late and not counted. The group was fined by the secretary of state (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2018 file photo, a voter in Lake Oswego, Ore., places her ballot in a designated drop box outside City Hall. Days before last November's elections, members of a political action committee in Oregon went door-to-door in Portland and its suburbs and collected filled-in ballots from voters, saying they'd mail them in. But about 100 of those ballots were mailed late and not counted. The group was fined by the secretary of state (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s elections director and a political action committee that disenfranchised nearly 100 voters by turning their ballots in late have come to an agreement in which most of its fine will be suspended and the group will detail its procedures, officials said Friday.

The incident revealed a possible election vulnerability in Oregon, the first state to adopt an all-mail vote.

No one knows how many groups in Oregon collect filled-in ballots from voters in November because state officials in charge of elections have not tracked the activities.

In the agreement provided Friday by the secretary of state’s office, the directors of the Defend Oregon PAC agreed to disclose whether people taking completed ballots to the U.S. mail or to official election drop boxes are volunteers, employees or paid canvassers.

In addition the group will detail the training the people receive, the signs they use, and the process employed to gather and deliver ballots.

The group must also describe its procedures to track and count ballots, and how they are stored, secured and prepared for delivery.

More attention is being paid to voting by mail as doubts arise in the nation about the security of election systems that can be hacked and about reliance on aging or inadequate voting machines.

Colorado and Washington state followed suit after Oregon pioneered the all-mail vote in 2000.

A political operative working on behalf of a GOP candidate in North Carolina was recently arrested after being accused of illegally collecting mail-in absentee ballots. That November election will be redone.

In Oregon, days before last November’s elections, Defend Oregon went door-to-door in Portland and its suburbs and collected filled-in ballots from voters, saying they would send them in.

But it delivered 97 ballots to an elections office a day after the election. Officials said they were not counted, disenfranchising those voters. The secretary of state fined the committee $94,750.

As part of Monday’s stipulation and final order, Oregon’s elections division will review the procedures provided by Defend Oregon before it can collect any more ballots.

Defend Oregon was registered with the state elections division in May and says it works “to protect Oregon from extremist groups with dangerous agendas.”

The secretary of state has described the election mistake as “more severe than any other violation of election law.”

Defend Oregon said one of its canvassers removed 97 completed ballots from a lock box on election night. The person checked them against a spreadsheet and put them into a box to be delivered to the elections office or to an official drop box. But no one delivered them that day.

The box was discovered the next day and driven by Defend Oregon director Becca Uherbelau to the Multnomah County election office in Portland.

“We take this mistake very seriously and sincerely apologize to impacted voters who entrusted us with their ballots,” Uherbelau said in a statement at the time.

Of the civil penalty, $71,025 will be suspended as long as the PAC complies with providing the information on how it acts as a go-between. It must pay $23,725 by April 15.

Signing the agreement were Uherbelau; Christine Mason, another director of the PAC; and Oregon elections director Stephen Trout.

University of Oregon political science professor Priscilla Southwell wondered why the practice of go-betweens handling ballots persists, since voters need to go only as far as their mailbox to cast their vote.

“It seems strange that that many people would willingly turn over their ballots,” she said.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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