Why Can’t Clackamas County Just Print Stickers With Good Bar Codes and Sticker Over the Blurry Ones?

As it happens, we have a rule about what to do if a ballot’s bar code was smeared: Duplicate. Copy. Repeat.

Clackamas County ballots were printed with blurry bar codes. Why can’t they just print stickers with good bar codes and sticker over the blurry ones? Why do they have to hand-copy votes onto new ballots? —Coriander

As I write this, Clackamas County is expected to finish its count by the June 13 deadline. Soon, perhaps, this contretemps will be but a faded, smeared, digitally indecipherable memory.

In the meantime, though, the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office seems just as salty about it as you are. Its press releases on the subject are peppered with coded phrases like “unacceptable delay,” “disappointing lack of urgency” and “expects these benchmarks to be met,” which are pretty much as close as a government agency gets to slapping another agency upside the head.*

Given this, you might think the SoS’s Office would be only too happy to dish the dirt on Clackamas County Elections with me. So far, though, they haven’t responded to my requests for comment (perhaps there’s only so much urgency to go around), so I couldn’t obtain a blow-by-blow description of how the voting machines are configured. Still, like a priest with big hands, I think I can give you the broad strokes.

You see, Coriander, everything in government has Rules, which must be followed or someone, somewhere, will freak (and, if possible, sue). If it’s in the Rules, you have to do it, and if you do it, it has to be in the Rules. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

As it happens, we have a rule about what to do if a ballot’s bar code was smeared: Duplicate. Copy. Repeat. This rule was designed for 100 smeared ballots, not 100,000, so it sucks in this situation, and your sticker plan (which other readers suggested also) might have worked better. But who wants to go out there and tell that unruly election night mob that you changed the rules because you had a better idea? They hate ideas.

No, as far as I’m concerned, we’re damned lucky there was a rule at all, even a shitty one. I can only take so many constitutional crises per year.

*Not counting the Trump administration, where Cabinet secretaries routinely settled interdepartmental disputes by hitting each other with rubber chickens.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.