St. Helens, OR — Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan completed a 36-county tour of Oregon’s elections offices today with a visit to Columbia County.
“In every corner of Oregon, the state of our vote-by-mail system is strong,” Secretary Fagan said. “When I took office, I made it a goal to visit all 36 county elections offices to see their operations and hear directly from elections workers about the challenges they face. Our democracy is under attack, and our counties are the first line of defense.”
Secretary Fagan predicts a smooth election in November, owing to the integrity of county elections officials.
“Local elections officials are your neighbors, and they are dedicated to Oregon’s democracy,” Secretary Fagan said. “Oregon’s elections officials understand the value of vote-by-mail and are eager to build trust in our elections. The integrity of Oregon’s elections officials is rock solid. If every Oregonian could tour their county elections office, we could put to rest much of the false information that spreads from the Big Lie.”
The operations of county elections offices are transparent. Any voter can observe the pre-election certification of voting machines, the verification of signatures, the counting of ballots, and the post-election audits that verify accurate results in every county. Ensuring that observers have easy access to the process was a common topic of conversation on the tour.
“Building trust with the public is the most important part of my job,” said Columbia County Clerk Debbie Klug. “Elections workers are part of the community. We are professionals doing extremely important work to make sure Oregon’s elections are free and fair.”
Clerk Klug provided a tour of Columbia County’s elections office today and spoke with Secretary Fagan about the County’s challenges — tight budgets, ever-increasing complexity, and false information. Secretary Fagan has heard many of the same challenges echoed across all 36 counties.
“Overstretched budgets and unreliable federal funding present a long-term risk to elections in Oregon,” Secretary Fagan said. “In the next legislative session, I will fight for legislation to address this risk.”
The legislative proposal currently under consideration would create a commission to study funding needs and make recommendations for creating stable, long-term funding for county elections operations.
Elections officials around the state also voiced concerns about safety, false information, and a flood of public records requests based on conspiracy theories. In response to the growing threats against election workers and increased challenges of dealing with the spread of false information, 22% of Oregon’s election officials will retire in 2021 and 2022.
“In order to protect our democracy, we must protect the people who make our democracy work,” Secretary Fagan said. “I led the fight to pass the bipartisan Election Worker Protection Act in 2022, but we need to remain vigilant and stay one step ahead of threats.”
One proposal Secretary Fagan will pursue is creating a statewide coordinator for public records requests to help counties deal with a flood of requests for election-related records based on conspiracy theories. Elections officials are also working with local law enforcement on security plans for the November election.