Oregon voting, ballot counting in age of pandemic

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Election officials expect 50% turnout in May 19 primary

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon’s vote-by-mail is a big win for citizens to cast their ballot in the primary under the shadow of the pandemic. But there are big changes at elections offices trying to keep socially distant while handling hundreds of people who show up needing help.

Elections offices are trying to find way to maintain physical distancing for all those who show up — people who didn’t get a ballot or have a problem with the ballot they did get.

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People can order ahead for a replacement ballot and have it brought to them at a nearby parking lot — sort of like a Ballot-to-Go.

The threat of the coronavirus also affected the usual army of seniors who are longtime workers at county offices during elections. Many are staying away for personal safety since they are in the high risk group.

There are usually 275 temporary workers gathered to open and check ballots. Now there are just 150, spaced 6 feet apart at the Multnomah County election headquarters.

Counties have hired new workers, including many county library workers now available since the libraries are closed.

Here’s where to drop off your ballot for the Oregon primary

But with social distancing and other rules in place, there are fewer overall workers.

Election workers who open mailed-in ballots open from the bottom — not the top part that was likely licked by the voter. That’s just one of the many precautions in place for election night on Tuesday.

“We’ve actually been working on all the ballots that have come in up until yesterday so we will have 50-60% of total ballots cast ready to report just after 8 tomorrow night,” said Multnomah County Elections Director Tim Scott. “They’ll still see a lot of the results right at 8 oclock on election night but what may be different — because there are fewer people in the building — we won’t be able to provide as many returns in the subsequent reports, say at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.”

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Because the libraries are closed, voters in Multnomah County can drop their ballot in a library book drop box anywhere in the county. It will be picked up in time and counted by election night.

KOIN 6 News is Your Local Election Headquarters.
Stay with KOIN 6 News and KOIN.com for election results after 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Ballots ready to be counted at an election office. (KOIN File)

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