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Oregon Flooded With Records Requests from Election Deniers

The Secretary of State’s office has received three times the normal amount of records requests as people seek information about voting machines. The requests have been sparked by election misinformation.

(TNS) — As Oregon election officials are busy preparing for a November election with pivotal races for Congress and the Legislature, they’ve found themselves buried in a wave of records requests and letters threatening lawsuits.

The flurry of paperwork is part of a national campaign by right-wing election deniers to complicate or undermine their work, they say.

The Oregon Secretary of State’s office received more than 200 records requests in July and August, more than triple the usual amount, said Ben Morris, a spokesperson for the office. Some county election clerks report they also have been hit with a barrage of records requests.

Most of the requests to the state elections office sought information about ballot-counting machines used in local elections, Morris said.

Those machines are in the crosshairs of activists nationwide after last month’s call to action by prominent election denier and pillow company executive Mike Lindell. Lindell has baselessly said that hackers helped rig the November 2020 election for President Joe Biden by infiltrating election machines.

In a typical records request Oregon’s elections office received this month, a man asked for any emails, texts or other communications between election officials that reference Lindell or voting data he has demanded. Some requests appeared to originate from email chains with instructions for submitters.

County clerks told The Oregonian/OregonLive they are struggling to keep up with the influx of records requests that they say waste valuable time and resources. Under state transparency law, public officials must quickly evaluate and respond to records requests, which can be complex and lengthy. Multnomah County Elections Director Tim Scott said his office received nine records requests in a single day last week. To cope, he’s adding a new staff member to keep up with the demands for information, which he said are often vague and time-intensive.

Scott, who is also president of the Oregon Association of County Clerks, said the records campaign appears coordinated. Many recent requests were sent to all 36 Oregon counties.

“It’s happening in every office,” he said.

Activists are also sending identical letters demanding clerks keep records from past elections or face litigation. Deschutes County Clerk Steve Dennison said his office received an “unprecedented” 30 demands from different people since late August. Dennison said he may need to ask for help from other county departments to respond to the letters and records requests.

Many of the letters reference an Oregon woman’s lawsuit against Oregon’s secretary of state, Shemia Fagan, that alleges foreign interference in elections and flaws in cybersecurity, echoing election denier talking points. Election officials are holding onto their records of the November 2020 election until the lawsuit concludes, Scott said.

Some officials speculated that the flurry of emails and letters could be intended to distract clerks from preparing for the upcoming general election, which includes at least two tight races for Congress. Key dates for election preparation are nearing, such as a deadline to print and mail ballots to overseas voters and military personnel by Sept. 24.

“It appears to be a very small group of people, who are very loud, who are seemingly attempting to gum up the works,” Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla said. He also received the letters along with other commissioners who do not steward voting records.

Jennifer Gunter, who filed the lawsuit against Fagan, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Tina Milcarek, a prolific records requester named in the lawsuit also did not respond to several emailed requests for comment.

National Campaign

Election officials from North Carolina to Colorado and Georgia have reported receiving a wave of communications after Lindell asked supporters for help acquiring records of how each voter, without personally identifying information attached, voted in 2020, which insiders call “cast vote” records.

Those records are created by ballot tabulation machines used in Oregon and other states. Officials hold the machines in high regard, but election deniers have attacked them as untrustworthy. The U.S. government’s Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, which is made up of election and cybersecurity experts, has said there is no evidence that voting systems were “in any way compromised” in 2020.

“Cast vote” records take different forms depending on the vendor type. Often, they’re “massive spreadsheets,” said Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker. She said the records requests have become “a source of anxiety” in her Medford office.

So far, her employees haven’t created a single electronic file of all cast vote records because no requester has been willing to pay the high cost, Walker said. Her county tallied more than 128,000 ballots in the November 2020 election. In Multnomah County, the state’s largest jurisdiction, Scott said it’s also common for requesters to back out when they see the cost of a records request.

Oregon Safeguards

Cast vote records are typically used by political scientists or auditors. It’s unclear how the requesters might use the records. The Oregon Secretary of State’s office provided The Oregonian/OregonLive with dozens of requests for the records and other asks related to ballot-counting machines.

Morris, the office’s spokesperson, said election officials publicly test vote-counting machines before and after elections. Election staff also compare paper ballots received through the state’s vote-by-mail system to the machine-generated tallies, rendering widespread manipulation of the machines “impossible.”

“In their minds, they’re doing a public service,” Morris said of election deniers. “But the effect of what they’re doing is, they’re bogging down a system that was designed to make government more transparent.”

In interviews, the county clerks emphasized they’ll comply with public records laws one way or another. But they said the influx is bad timing.

“We are 100 percent in the thick of this election and these constant records requests are really pulling us away from the duties that we are charged with,” Walker said.

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