April 21, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Election nerd / superhero Dena Dawson prepares for the 2024 elections

11 min read
Dena Dawson: It's more important than ever for us to establish a level of trust with the public. We really need to counter the false information out there by flooding the zone with the truth and really kind of inoculating the public to the mundane work that we do to prepare for elections so that they realize that it's a team of dedicated public servants that are doing this work.

An update on how Lane County’s top elections official is preparing for the coming May primary election and the November presidential election. With the commissioners March 19:

Dena Dawson (Lane County elections): I’m excited to be here to provide an update about some of the programs our team has been working on and give a couple of updates about the upcoming primary election. And we’re well into planning for the presidential election as well. As an election nerd or election administrator, we’ve been planning for the presidential election since last year.

We’re focused right now on building a more proactive communications plan. It’s more important than ever for us to establish a level of trust with the public. We really need to counter the false information out there by flooding the zone with the truth and really kind of inoculating the public to the mundane work that we do to prepare for election so that they realize that it’s a team of dedicated public servants that are doing this work.

And just putting some education out there for folks to understand. Because elections are complicated and complex and we want to make sure that we’re doing the best that we can to provide factual information. So we’ll be working with our public information officer.

[00:01:12] And each election cycle, we put a communications plan together that says, ‘Here’s the deadline to register to vote,’ and ‘Here’s the logic and accuracy test.’ And we’ve put the minimum forward, but we are going to double down on that this election cycle, starting now throughout the presidential cycle, to really use our social media and media as a way to help us educate folks on the process. So we’re looking on being more proactive and doubling down on our communications plan.

[00:01:41] We’re also focused right now on our safety, security, and contingency planning. I knew it. I was—I’m going to try not to get emotional. Dang it. Sorry. We’ve been a little spun up after receiving a suspicious mail piece that had a suspicious substance.

[00:02:00] So, we have been really focusing on the safety and security of our team and all of our election workers, and that’s working in partnership with CISA and our local hazmat teams. Our local CISA representative was out at the elections office last week. And CISA is our Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

[00:02:23] They came out to the new county clerk’s building (the former elections building) to do a walkthrough and a comprehensive security assessment. And really, they’ve done this in 2020, and they came out to look at what we’ve implemented and what we can do to be more secure in the work that we’re doing cybersecuritywise and our infrastructure.

[00:02:46] And so there’s been a lot of work done to the building to help us feel safer on what we’re doing. But the suspicious mail piece was an ugly reminder that we need to be more prepared in situations that come up.

[00:03:01] So we’ve dusted off our procedures on how to handle suspicious mail and have been working with local hazmat, with Eugene Springfield Hazardous Materials Team and CISA to see what we can do to beef up our security and to test our contingency plans to make sure that when something does happen, we’re prepared.

[00:03:21] And so, I’m pleased to say that we are doing what we can there, and we’re going to be working to secure some grants to help us increase the security of that building. Presidential elections get a lot of attention, but we conduct a lot of elections and we need to be safe and secure at every election. And so we’re working on that.

[00:03:41] I want to say on the record, since I have this opportunity, that key election staff (sorry) have been trained on how to administer naloxone, we have received training in self-defense and we’ve also received training in de-escalation, because that’s the world that we live in.

[00:04:00] So something that’s near and dear to my heart is making sure that we can do the work that we do without having a fear for our lives. So we are spending a lot of time right now, before we get into the really critical planning period, to make sure that we’re safe and secure. So, I, it’s a reality that we’re dealing with.

[00:04:18] So I almost made it through. I told my team, ‘I’m not going to cry.’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, you are.’ So they were right. Thank you so much.

[00:04:25] So now let’s get into just a little bit of an update about where we are for the primary election. On Friday, we really kind of get into that life cycle of a ballot.

[00:04:35] At E-60 (election minus 60 days), we’re getting all of the content that’s certified to us from the state and the cities and measure filing deadlines. And so we’re gathering all of that information, reconciling it against the source of truth to make sure that we have everything that’s going to appear on the ballot and we’re starting the proofing process.

[00:04:55] And I am an election nerd, but boy, do I hate proofing ballots, because it is so stressful! There’s so many opportunities to get a candidate’s name wrong or use some incorrect information. There’s 50 versions of a measure filing that is submitted to our office.

[00:05:10] So making sure that we have the final measure filing, making sure that every word is spelled right. So it’s my least favorite part of the job, this piece, because once ballots go out, when we get a phone call that something is misspelled, I won’t sleep for two weeks afterwards, just because it’s a very stressful period of time. But that’s where we’re at, at E-60.

[00:05:29] We have 10 measures that were filed with our office for the primary ballot. And that seems like a lot to me, but we will be working on getting all of those onto the ballot artwork pieces that we’re going to be creating this weekend.

[00:05:43] There are three county races that we’re likely all aware of. There are multiple races for Eugene and Springfield and the Row River proposed fire district has also a race for their inaugural board of directors.

[00:05:57] So I just wanted to plug our life cycle of a ballot that’s on our website that folks can take a peek at to get a better understanding of where we are.

[00:06:07] And primary elections in Oregon are super fun, because we also get the joy of holding elections for precinct committee chairpersons. And we have almost 400 candidate filings for precinct committee chairpersons that we will be proofing and reconciling this weekend to make sure that every person that filed for precinct committee chairperson appears on the correct ballot type.

[00:06:30] And so that’s really an interesting challenge in primary elections. Lots and lots of ballot types and lots and lots of races.

[00:06:38] Because there are so many measures, we might actually be pushed to having a two-card ballot. So we’ll have two pages. I won’t know until this weekend when we’re able to kind of navigate the artwork that we’re creating. That has an impact on the budget if you have to print two pieces of paper instead of one. And so this is that super fun, stressful time.

[00:07:00] So another item that’s really important in a primary is that this is a closed primary. Both major parties have determined that they did not want to open their primaries up. So a person has to be affiliated with a party if they want to vote a person in that party’s primary to the general election ballot.

[00:07:21] So of course there are several nonpartisan races that will appear on all ballots. But Republicans—if you’re affiliated with the Republican Party, you will receive a ballot that has candidates that are affiliated with the Republican Party—and the same for the Democratic Party.

[00:07:37] This is a really confusing issue for folks. We get a lot of calls from folks that are wondering why a certain candidate isn’t appearing on their ballot.

[00:07:46] John Q: Because people can change their party affiliation up until April 30, voters in a closed primary may receive two ballots, one for their old political party, and one for their new party.

[00:07:58] Dena Dawson (Lane County elections): The deadline to register to vote or change your party is April 30, but we send the file to the vendor about nine days before then. During that nine-day period, if somebody changes their party or affiliates with a party that was not affiliated, the original ballot is voided, but they’re going to receive that voided ballot in addition to the replacement ballot.

[00:08:23] So, our team is working on an education campaign. My first thought was to call it, ‘It’s not unusual,’ and use the Carlton, but I think that’s copyrighted. So we’ll come up with another kind of ad campaign, but we really want folks to understand that this is not unusual. It is not uncommon in this situation for this to occur. And that’s part of our communications plan that we want to put out there.

[00:08:48] So as we do these updates every couple of weeks, we’ll dig a little bit deeper into some of these scenarios that might be a cause for concern for folks, but really, there is no cause for concern.

[00:09:00] When we issue the original ballot, once we issue a replacement, that one is voided and there’s a unique ballot ID number associated with every ballot. So it’s—the system is flagging any type of ballot that’s returned in that.

[00:09:16] And that’s why I would love folks to come and see the process. You can see the light bulbs going off when people come and get a tour and then understand, like, ‘Oh, that makes so much sense. That makes sense to me now.’

[00:09:29] So again, the office is open for tours. We are radically transparent, and we continue to make efforts in that area to be more transparent.

[00:09:38] So I wanted just to close by saying that today is E-231 for the presidential election and we are preparing for that now.

[00:09:51] Laurie Trieger (Lane County commissioner): Speaking of transparency, when do the cameras start rolling on our, I think of it like the zoos that have them trained on the eagle nest to watch the eggs hatch. So when did those, I assume those don’t start until ballots start coming in.

[00:10:03] Dena Dawson (Lane County elections): That’s exactly when. Live streaming starts when ballots actually are mailed. So, as soon as ballots hit the mail stream, we start the livestream, and it goes through certification. And we’re working on right now our tentative schedule of mail ballot processing activities.

[00:10:18] So that is a long title. I need to jzzdg that up a bit, but that schedule shows when the ballot returns start, when the livestream starts, when we start the deconstruction and open enough ballots so that folks can really put the full picture together. And I’m really am proud that we did get national recognition for our enhanced observation, and we were invited to come to Nashville to speak with other election administrators to train them on that program if they were interested in implementing a radical transparency approach.

[00:10:49] So, thank you for asking that question, because that’s something that I’m really proud of that we were able to roll out.

[00:10:56] Pat Farr (Lane County, commissioner): Regarding change of address: A couple of years ago, our son, who moved here from Arizona with their family, has the same name as me, moved into our house for a while, and then moved out. And so my mail followed him, because we have the same name. How do we cover that? If my ballot goes to somebody else, or somebody else’s ballot comes to my household.

[00:11:17] Dena Dawson (Lane County elections): When there is a change of address, the post office provides a list through a Federal List Maintenance Program that says, ‘Hey, this person has now moved,’ and as election officials, if we can confirm that there’s enough minimum matching criteria, we will update your address, your voter registration address to that new address. But we will send a card to the new address to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got information that you’ve moved to this address. Is this accurate? If not, please return this card and tell us.’ So there’s a control in place for election officials.

[00:11:52] But I would absolutely say this is an excellent opportunity for all voters to go online and check and make sure that their address is accurate and that their party affiliation is accurate.

[00:12:03] And if you don’t have access to the internet, call our office or stop by our office. But especially in presidential election cycles, where participation is 80% to 85%, let’s make sure that you are going to receive that ballot.

[00:12:19] David Loveall (Lane County commissioner): I want to commend you in public for your courage.

[00:12:22] Somebody once told me that ‘Yet in all things we are more than conquerors.’ And you are a person who has faced a lot of stress. You mentioned it many times in your report about, ‘This is stressful,’ and you kind of take it as it’s kind of falling off your back, but it’s a weight that you bear as a leader.

[00:12:37] And as a leader, you’ve not let the pain and discouragement disrail you from doing what you know is right. I mean, you’ve taken those self-defense classes. I can just see election people looking at a karate guy and thinking about, ‘What do we got to do here?’ But you’ve embraced that as something that you’re willing to do to lead your people and to sacrifice for that.

[00:12:56] And I can’t think of a higher compliment to pay to have someone like you work for us, to have that kind of strength and that kind of courage. And so, you know, even though you label yourself as a nerd, you’re actually kind of a real election superhero. So I want to thank you for what you do. Good job.

[00:13:09] I want to also jump on that Tom Jones theme that you were talking about. I’ve already got the first chorus written: ‘It’s not unusual to get a voided ballot first, but you’re assured the right one’s on the way.’ We could make that into a whole chorus song. I’m already writing that for you.

[00:13:23] John Q: The county clerk is also seeking election workers, and is offering a coloring contest for students. Learn more at the Lane County elections website.

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