Clackamas County’s Ballot Snafu Could Set an Oregon Record for Longest Duration Between Election Night and Final Results

We consulted several scholars of Oregon political history to identify the election results that kept people in suspense the longest.

As of press deadline, just two votes separated Neelam Gupta from Daniel Nguyen in the May 17 Democratic primary for House District 38.

That margin is so narrow it could easily trigger a recount. Which means an extension of purgatory for Gupta, Nguyen and voters. They’ve already waited more than two weeks for final results, thanks to a botched ballot printing in Clackamas County that required elections officials to duplicate each ballot by hand.

By the time a recount is finished, voters in House District 38 (Lake Oswego, Southwest Portland) may have waited longer for a result than anyone ever has in Oregon, says former Secretary of State Phil Keisling.

County elections offices are required to submit official results within 27 days. Clackamas County is stretching that timeline. But if the final margin is less than two-tenths of 1%, that requires counting again—and a longer wait.

A recount when the first tally was delayed by a printer error? That’s a new one.

“Hope for the best, plan for the worst—and, in the world of election administration, it’s a race that literally results in a tie,” Keisling tells WW. “Which is damn close to what’s happened in HD38. That will lead to an automatic recount for sure—but just when it will even start is still TBD, I suspect.”

No database exists in the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office to record the longest duration between election night and the official declaration of a winner. So WW consulted several scholars of Oregon political history—Keisling, pollster John Horvick, and Oregon Historical Society director Kerry Tymchuk—to identify the election results that kept people in suspense the longest. Here are five standouts, and how the 2022 Clackamas fiasco compares.

1864 presidential election

4 days

By Nov. 12, Oregon had reported official results from most of the state—including Clackamas County—that showed the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln. “Glory to God!” The Daily Oregonian rejoiced. “Lincoln elected!” Four days is not a long wait. “But interesting to see,” observes Horvick, “that Civil War-era Clackamas County was speedier and better organized than 2022 Clackamas County.”

1968 general election for U.S. Senate

45 days

The longest wait we could find on the books: a statewide recount that vaulted then-state Rep. Bob Packwood (R-Portland) into the upper chamber of Congress at the expense of incumbent Sen. Wayne Morse (D-Ore.). In fact, Morse had to pay $30,000 for the recount, which still showed him trailing by 3,263 votes on Dec. 20. Even then, Morse refused to concede until after Christmas.

1992 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate

29 days

U.S. Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.) sought to vault into the Senate seat held by Packwood—but first he had to squeak by Bend tech entrepreneur Harry Lonsdale. AuCoin’s win was within the margin of error; a recount showed he won by 330 votes.

2000 presidential election

10 days

“It wasn’t just close in Florida,” Horvick says of the George W. Bush-Al Gore nail-biter that made “hanging chads” a household phrase. By Nov. 17, The Oregonian reported, Gore’s margin of victory in Oregon had expanded to 6,700 votes, just outside the margin that would have triggered a recount. As Oregon goes, so goes the nation!

2014 Ballot Measure 92

36 days

A ballot measure that would have required the labeling of all genetically modified foods set a record (since eclipsed) for the most expensive initiative fight in Oregon history. (Monsanto alone spent $4.6 million.) The measure was defeated by fewer than 800 votes out of 1.5 million cast. The narrow margin sparked an automatic recount and a lawsuit by the measure’s supporters seeking to reconsider more than 4,000 ballots invalidated for lacking proper signatures. Neither changed the result.

2022 Democratic primary for U.S. House

10 days

Jamie McLeod-Skinner’s upset of seven-term incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) looked likely after the first returns trickled in from Clackamas County. But Keisling shudders to think what might have ensued had a contest for national office been as close as past races. “Had this been an AuCoin vs. Lonsdale margin situation—with the screwup thus requiring the full period of time just to get a very close, ‘initial count’—then an automatic recount could well have taken us into late June, even early July,” he says.

Correction: This story incorrectly stated that county elections offices are required to submit official results within 20 days. The deadline is 27 days. WW regrets the error.