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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Elections Officials Say System Is Secure

Kevin Mooney
Northwest News Network
Voters in Oregon have until November 8 to return their ballots.

Around a third of all American adults are concerned that the election will be rigged. With one week remaining to turn in ballots, Oregon elections officials say the state's vote-by-mail system is as safe as ever.

Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins told OPB's Think Out Loud Tuesday that Oregon's de-centralized election system contributes to its security.

"It is a human endeavor, so whether there will be a mistake made here or there is certainly up to question,” Atkins said. “But in a system where 36 different county officials, working with election boards that are made up across party representation on all of them, counting ballots through tabulation machines that are not connected to the internet, doing the work of adjudicating ballots in these cross-party teams, it would be very difficult if not impossible to coordinate all of that into an effort that would affect the outcome of an election."

Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess told Think Out Loud host Dave Miller that in his county, security measures even include the physical security of the boxes where many people drop off their ballots.

"Traditionally those boxes have been just fine and secure the way they are,” Burgess said. “Now we tie our boxes down with cable."

"And that's a relatively recent addition to security measures?" Miller asked.

"Yes. And we also have people watching them where they are in some instances,” Burgess said. “In some instances they're under camera. Some of the new 24 hour boxes that you can see here in Multnomah County or in my county, in Marion County, are very heavy boxes. I put mine in rebar and cement; make it a little bit harder for people to take away. And we haven't had any problems here yet."

And Burgess said elections workers themselves are under constant scrutiny as they process ballots.

"Earlier this morning we swore in 80 election board workers,” Burgess said. “And they take their work very seriously. They also do it under camera. They do it with other election board workers at the table with them."

Atkins told Miller that anyone with doubts or questions about Oregon's ballot-counting process is welcome to see it for themselves.

"Clerks very much encourage people to come and watch their process,” Atkins said. “Now they don't always have room for huge crowds to come and be watching during election season, but their experience is that once people see how the functions are separated, when the envelope comes off that's got the name on it, that's separated from the ballot, it's somebody else who's going to look to the ballot, open it up, do the next…

”To make sure the ballot secrecy is maintained,” Miller added.

"Some of them have conference tables that have little barriers. Only this happens at this point, only this happens at this point. Others, it's a different part of the room,” Atkins said. “ I think people would have great confidence if they went and observed in their own county."

Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins and Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess spoke today on Think Out Loud.