State launches probe after box of ballots surfaces

Our Oregon collected ballots, but failed to turn in 96 until day after the election. The Secretary of State's Office is investigating.

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is investigating the return of 97 ballots by two officials connected with Our Oregon a day after the general election deadline.

Richardson’s office announced the investigation Wednesday, triggered by notice from Multnomah County. His office wouldn’t release any information beyond a press release, saying any other disclosure would require a public records request.

The Multnomah County Elections Division on Thursday released its Nov. 9 letter to state Elections Director Steve Trout outlining the allegation.

Tim Scott, Multnomah County elections director, wrote that Becca Uherbelau, executive director of Our Oregon, and Steven Ungar, legal counsel for Our Oregon, delivered a box of ballot envelopes to his office the afternoon of Nov. 7. The box contained 96 ballot envelopes for the Nov. 6 general election, and one for the May primary.

Ninety-one of the ballots were from Multnomah County and one was from Washington County. None of the ballots have been counted.

Uherbelau and Ungar said volunteers and staffers with Our Oregon, or its affiliated political action committee, Defend Oregon, had collected the ballot envelopes from voters and intended to turn them in to the county office by 8 p.m. Election Day, according to the county’s letter.

“Other ballot envelopes were turned in on time, but somehow this box was missed. They stated they found the box on November 7, and they brought the box of ballot envelopes to our office as soon as it was discovered,” the letter said.

Katherine Driessen of Defend Oregon acknowledged in a statement Thursday that the left-leaning political action committee affiliated with Our Oregon had turned in ballots after the deadline.

“We take voting and the right to vote very seriously at Defend Oregon, and so we were disheartened to learn that late on Election Day campaign staff failed to follow established ballot collection protocol,” she wrote. “Due to this lapse, ballots entrusted to us by Oregonians were not delivered to a drop-box on Election Day.”

Driessen indicated that Defend Oregon had collected ballots to “ensure that Oregonians who might otherwise face obstacles to turning in their ballots are able to fully participate in our democracy.”

When the political group discovered its oversight, it reported the violation to the county Elections Division for the sake of transparency, Driessen said. The group didn’t expect the ballots to count. Multnomah County processed 382,000 ballots.

“Defend Oregon has rigid protocols in place to ensure safe collection and delivery of ballots,” Driessen wrote. “But unfortunately, that protocol was not followed on Election Day.”

In an email to the Oregon Capital Bureau, Driessen said she assumed the investigation was related to her organization’s late return but that they had yet to be contacted by the Secretary of State’s Office.

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