Multnomah County Commissioners heard an overview of the last year’s elections and preparations underway for the current election cycle at the board briefing Tuesday.
The briefing is part of regular updates the Elections Division provides to the board to highlight successes and challenges each year.
“It’s been a busy year,” Multnomah County Elections director Tim Scott said. “For the first time in the ten years that I’ve worked for Multnomah County, we had four elections in the fiscal year.”
The nearly countywide Special Election on the Portland Community College Bond in November 2017
The Statewide Special Election on Measure 101 in January 2018
The Special Election for Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Annexation in March 2018
And the upcoming Primary Election in May 2018
This year, more than 800 filings were made for precinct committeeperson, a person who represents voters in their neighborhood, registered with their respective major political party.
“It’s almost double the number of PCP filings we had last year and as far as we know the largest number we’ve ever had,” Scott said.
Scott highlighted work the Elections Division is doing to improve voter access, outreach and education.
Despite Oregon’s vote-by-mail process and a 20-day voting window to return ballots, there are still lines on Election Day as voters seek replacement ballots and other services. In 2016, the division created a way for voters to request a replacement ballot through an online form or by phone. The ballot is then prepared and made available at Elections Will Call.
“This shortened the wait times for everyone,” Scott said.
Visits to the front counter the day before and on Election Day have increased by nearly 700 voters since 2012 he said. That’s due, in part, to increased voter registration through the Oregon Motor Voter Act processes, increased population and improved voter outreach services, he said. Despite an increased demand for services, the Order Ahead Replacement Ballot process has had a significant impact, lowering wait times.
“On Election Day in November 2012, voters waited for approximately an hour for services,” Scott said. “On Election Day November 2016, wait times for those who did not order ahead was approximately 20 minutes; those who ordered ahead had no wait time at all.”
As a result, the idea was submitted to the Elections Center, a national association of elections officials that works to train and certify elections workers, and to create opportunities for sharing best practices in voter registration and elections administration.
It earned the 2017 "Minuteman Award," which is given to a submission which best demonstrates “a practice that is quick or inexpensive to implement or produces sustainable savings.”
“It speaks of my team,” Scott replied to congratulatory remarks made by the board.
"Pop-up" Voting Center Pilot
In January, the Elections Division debuted its pilot, pop-up voting center at the Multnomah County East Building in downtown Gresham. The Voting Center Express is an additional service location which opens 15 days before each election in 2018.
Staff worked to create a welcoming environment inside a vacant, rent-free space in the building, Scott explained. They put up inviting, multilingual signs in six languages and multilingual staff provided assistance to voters in their native language, he said.
The center provides the same voter services as the Multnomah County Duniway-Lovejoy Elections Building on Southeast Morrison: replacing a lost ballot, help voting, updating voter information and more.
“Our goal was to find a better way to serve voters in East Multnomah County by providing a closer location for assistance and expanding access to voting services.”
In the two weeks the voting center was open ahead of the January Election:
More than 440 people visited the Voting Center Express
92 percent of voting center visitors live in zip codes that straddle or are east of I-205
76 percent said they would not have visited the Duniway-Lovejoy Elections Building in inner Southeast Portland
29 percent of voters said they learned of the center while visiting the building on another matter
20 percent of Elections division’s voter assistance interactions happened at the Voting Center Express; half of those were for assistance in a language other than English
“We are already deep in preparations to use the space for the May Primary,” Scott said.
Scott emphasized the efforts the Elections Division has made to provide services to voters with limited English proficiency.
In addition to outreach events, multilingual staff and web resources, election press releases are provided in six languages.
During the November 2016 Election, 89 voters requested assistance in another language and 37 did so during the January 2018 cycle.
“Our language access approach goes beyond federal minimums while working to ensure meaningful access to elections information and services for voters with limited English proficiency and persons with disabilities in accordance with Multnomah County’s language and cultural access policy,” said Scott.
Ballot Tracking Program and New 24-Hour Drop Site
Over 37,000 people participated in the County’s Ballot Tracking Program, which allows voters to sign up to receive text, phone or email messages when their ballot has been mailed, received, accepted or challenged by the Elections Division.
The service is one of the most popular the division offers, said Scott. And voters who signed up for the service, resolved a challenged or no signature on their ballots at a rate of 57 to 40 percent.
“It’s difficult to say whether ballot tracking caused this increase or if voters using ballot tracking would have responded at higher rates anyway,” said Scott. “Either way we receive more positive feedback from voters than any other product we offer.”
The Elections Division is also working to place an additional 24-hour ballot dropsite at Mount Hood Community College campus on Northeast 102nd Avenue and Prescott Street in the Parkrose neighborhood.
Currently, there are nine 24-hour drop sites, in addition to drop boxes located at libraries throughout the County.
“Secure, well-maintained drop sites — strategically placed throughout the county — increase access and encourage voter participation,” said Scott.
“We believe we’ll have it done and [it] should be installed in June — not in time for the Primary but in time for the November General Election.”
“We didn’t just start talking about security in 2016,” Scott stressed to the board. “It has always been a focus of our process.”
Scott highlighted some of the security steps the Elections Division has taken including:
An isolated ballot tally system which is never connected to the internet or any county network
IT Security examinations for vulnerabilities
And tampering checks at each step of ballot processing
Still there are very real threats to our elections systems Scott explained. “By now it’s common knowledge that state voter registration systems were the target of cyber scanning activities by the Russian government.”
“The good news now is we have more resources than ever before to combat the threat of cyber threats. Information sharing between federal, state and local governments has never been better,” he continued.
After the 2016 Election, the Department of Homeland Security designated election systems as part of the country’s critical infrastructure. An Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center was also established by the Department of Homeland Security to share information about potential threats to election systems.
This builds on an already established Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center which Multnomah County is a member of, he explained.
“We are continually working on securing our election processes, in short, we’re ready for 2018.”