Office has no authority to overturn electionsClatsop County officials acted quickly and properly in handling the mix-up that sent incomplete ballots to a number of voters last month, according to the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

In a letter sent Friday, the state elections division said it found no evidence of misconduct in how the county handled the mistake that sent ballots missing the District 2 county commissioner race to an estimated 265 Republican voters in Gearhart.

Vince Williams, one of the candidates in the race, filed a complaint with the Secretary of State's office questioning whether the county did enough to ensure that all eligible voters received a correct ballot, and asking that his name be included on the November ballot along with his opponent, Patricia Roberts.

As the winner of the May 18 primary contest, Roberts' name will appear alone on the November ballot.

The county elections office heard from several Gearhart voters the day after ballots were mailed out that their ballots did not list the District 2 race. The problem was soon traced to Signature Graphics, the company that inserts and mails the ballots, who had mislabeled a box of ballots sent to Republican voters in Gearhart.

"While we acknowledge that this type of error is very serious, you recognized it as such and acted accordingly, without delay, to deal with it," said Norma Buckno, compliance specialist with the state elections division, in a letter to county elections director Nicole Williams. "We find you acted with due diligence to directly and immediately notify other county officials, as well as the public by way of the mass media about this error."

The county mailed out new, correct ballots to all Republican voters in Precinct 25, and sent out additional ballots to other voters who said their ballots didn't contain the District 2 race. Postcards were mailed to other District 2 voters alerting them to the problem, and local newspapers and radio stations were also notified.

"I'm very confident our office took extreme measures to take care of this problem," Nicole Williams said Tuesday, noting that she conferred with state elections officials after the problem was discovered. "I don't know what else we could have done."

Buckno suggested that the county improve the ballot-preparation process, a move her office is already implementing, Nicole Williams said. Elections staff currently supervise the insertion of ballots into envelopes, and check the various ballot styles, but in the future, they will make a more thorough inspection of the boxes of ballots to make sure they contain the proper versions, she said.

Elections staff determined that 265 incorrect ballots had been mailed out because the office normally prints 275 extra copies of each version, and only 10 copies of the version in question were left at the mailing center, Williams said.

In his letter to the state, Vince Williams said he was first told by the county elections office that the problem might have affected as many as 500 voters, but later was told the number was only 250.

Nicole Williams said she never told Vince Williams that there could be 500 incorrect ballots. On May 1 when she first spoke to Williams, it wasn't known how big the problem was, she said. Not until the next day did elections staff determine how many ballots were involved.

When an incomplete ballot was cast, the elections office held onto it in case that voter later turned in a correct ballot. If no corrected ballot was cast by the end of election day, the first ballot was tallied.

According to Nicole Williams, the elections office received back only 40 incomplete ballots from people who should have been sent ballots with the commissioner race - not enough to have made a difference in the race, which Vince Williams lost by almost 100 votes.

Buckno reiterated that the Secretary of State's office has no authority to overturn the election results or require that Williams' name be added to the November ballot. Williams, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday, said earlier he's considering filing a legal challenge to the election in circuit court.


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