Mid-valley election officials had to approach Tuesday’s primary almost as if they were planning a moon shot.
Only instead of brainstorming the system redundancies and computer algorithms of a NASA launch, officials in Linn and Benton counties had to deal with their own set of “what ifs” because of the coronavirus.
For longtime Linn County Clerk Steve Druckenmiller it all came under the category of “divide and isolate staff."
“For more than a month I had my chief deputy (Marcie Richey) work remotely designing more than 300 ballot formats, creating test decks of thousands of pages to be used to certify the accuracy of the vote tally machines and, in her spare time, work on reviewing our budget information for the coming year,” said Druckenmiller, who was working his 134th election since beginning elections work for the county in 1983. “The purpose was if I fell ill, the chief deputy would be available to step in and take over for me in conducting the election.
“In addition, early on we isolated two of our most experienced employees in an election room where they worked for weeks on end away from the rest of the office staff. The purpose was if the rest of our staff fell ill, the chief deputy and these two knowledgeable employees with the ability to perform any election task could, with the addition of temporary help, keep the election moving forward.
“The balance of our staff worked in the public area at their regular stations greeting and assisting our county residents. This included employees of our recording department who dealt with the public needing to record real property documents and research county records.
“And, in preparation for our election board workers coming in to open and process ballots, the ballot processing room was locked down and disinfected regularly.”
The COVID-19 election also tested James Morales, the Benton County clerk since 1988.
The work started “with locating and securing PPE supplies for our election workers and voters, identifying work areas and determining the number of staff that might be able to work within them while maintaining safe distancing in our 1888 courthouse basement and finally locating the seasonal election staff members that were in a position both mentally and physically to perform the work in the current environment.”
Both officials reeled off a list of partners who helped them get to — and beyond — election day. These include the U.S. Postal Service, the Secretary of State’s Office, county administrators and information technology folks, sheriff’s offices and the respective county health department.
Druckenmiller also credited his predecessor and mentor Del Riley, one of the key figures in Oregon’s move to vote-by-mail.
Ultimately, the payoff came at a few minutes past 8 p.m. when both counties issued their first batch of results.
“Although it seemed we needed to adjust our plans on an almost daily basis to prepare and respond to various pandemic related issues and concerns raised throughout the election, in the end, our goals were met in that we were able to deliver timely and accurate election returns in a safe and secure environment,” Morales said.
“Very smoothly,” said Druckenmiller of election night. “The results were delivered right at 8 p.m. which represented all the ballots we had in our possession at that time. Once the last of the ballots came in from the drop sites, they were processed, counted and we issued a ballot return update a few minutes after 11 p.m. and went home.”
But the work doesn’t end there. Tuesday’s returns remain unofficial until they are certified, an action that is required 20 days after election day.
Morales also noted “we are now within the 14-day challenge period, for voters whose signatures were challenged on the ballot return envelope have to resolve the challenge with us to have their ballot counted.”