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Umatilla County paying $43,000 for May election

Outsourcing reduces errors in 42,519 ballots sent out
Phil Wright

East Oregonian

Published on May 15, 2018 12:46PM

Last changed on May 15, 2018 1:33PM

Mail-in ballots wait to be counted at the Umatilla County Courthouse on May 9, 2018.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Mail-in ballots wait to be counted at the Umatilla County Courthouse on May 9, 2018.

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Ballots, envelopes and mailing for Tuesday’s election cost Umatilla County almost $43,000. Most of that money was spent in payments to private businesses and the United States Postal Service.

The county owes: $17,379 to Ryder Election Services, Bend, for printing 53,557 ballots for the election; $5,521 to BMS Technologies, Bend, for printing, filling and delivering envelopes for the election; and $20,000 to the United States Postal Service.

The elections division used to handle this work in-house, said Dan Lonai, administrative services director for the county.

“And no matter what, I always ended up with errors,” he said, “... stuffing errors, human errors. That was a big part of it. We want to make sure the right ballots are stuffed in.”

Even a 1 percent error rate with 30,000 ballots means there can be 300 errors. And the state’s voter motor registration law boosted the county’s voter total to more than 40,000. As of April, the county had 42,519 voters, about 2,400 more than the same time last year.

All told, the county owes $42,901. Tat includes a $5,570 to Elections Systems & Software, Chicago, for maintenance of the ballot reader.

The costs are in the county’s 2017-18 budget and are about the same as what the county allocated for a part-time surveyor or improvements to the Stafford Hansell Government Center, Hermiston. The county board of commissioners plans to approve the payments during its meets Wednesday morning starting at 9 at the county courthouse, 216 S.E. Fourth St., Pendleton.

It wasn’t just a concern for accuracy that caused the county to outsource the work — the election costs began mounting for the county a few years back.

First the Postal Service stopped using Pendleton as a distribution center, which for a long time allowed the county to receive a discount.

“If I want to drive my ballots down to Portland, I can get still get a good discount,” Lonai quipped.

And the county no longer has its own print shop. So the county pays Ryder Election to handle the precise printing on card stock that ballots require. Lonai said Ryder also services the county’s election machines.

Ryder also is “right next door to Bend Mail Services,” he said, which prints the envelopes and makes sure the right ballots go inside.

“That’s still a bit more than in-house,” Lonai said, “but everybody gets the right ballot.”

Well, almost everybody. Some voters move and don’t update their registration, he said, and the ballot goes to the address the county has. That’s most common when someone moves out of a family home, he said.

The county in those cases can mail a second ballot. Lonai explained serial numbers on the envelopes allow the county to keep track and make sure someone does not vote twice. He said keeping this all under the county’s roof would be nice, but Eastern Oregon lacks the volume to make that work.

The county also is using its new elections machines. Lonai said he expects the first big batch of results to be online soon after the polls close at 8 p.m. But voters that drop off ballots after 5, and the ballot drop boxes coming in from around the county, mean final unofficial results might not go public until around 11.

Elections volunteers and staff still must verify those later ballots, he said, and that alone can take a couple of hours, even with the turnout at a meager 24.6 percent as of Monday night.


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