Oregon’s primary elections will proceed as scheduled on May 19, the state’s top election official said Thursday, though results may be slower to come in because of the coronavirus pandemic. Several states, including Ohio, Kentucky and Georgia, had recently announced they were moving their primary elections back over COVID-19 concerns. “Because Oregon votes by mail we do not have to be concerned about social distancing issues at polling places that so many other states are struggling with,” Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno’s office said by email. Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess noted that ballot counters are normally sitting at tables in fairly crowded rooms and are often over 60 years old, and among the vulnerable population to COVID-19.
Burgess, president of the Oregon Association of County Clerks, said that to keep proper social distancing called for by health officials, fewer ballot counters will be able to fit in a room, and some might consider it too risky to show up. Plans are to give them gloves to handle the ballots, but as for now, no masks, he said.
Holding the closed Republican and Democratic primaries on May 19 as scheduled is a realistic goal, Burgess said, adding that he was confident it would be reached. However, he said that some lightly populated counties have only two elections officials.
“If one person gets sick, that’s a problem,” he said.
Ballots that come in over a short span of time — those that arrive on election day or the day before — through the mail or drop-off boxes might be counted more slowly because they typically account for around 30% of all ballots cast, Burgess said.
Clarnos’s office said contingency plans are being prepared to deal with any impacts COVID-19 may have on election processes.