SALEM, Ore. — A Portland-based Political Action Committee (PAC) faces a penalty of almost $95 thousand after an investigation by the Secretary of State's office confirmed that the organization had turned in voter ballots on the day following the November election.
"In November 2018, the Secretary of State’s Elections Division received a complaint from the Multnomah County Elections office that two individuals turned in 97 ballots late, which prevented the electors’ votes from being counted," Secretary of State Dennis Richardson's office said in a statement.
Following the complaint, the state Elections Division opened an investigation. It found that the two people identified in the complaint were affiliated with Defend Oregon, a Portland-based PAC dedicated to fighting predominately conservative measures.
Like many groups around the state, Defend Oregon used a combination of volunteers and employees to collect ballots from voters before turning them in at an official drop site. However, due to a "miscommunication" between their canvassers, 97 ballots that the PAC collected were not turned in before the 8 p.m. deadline on Election Day.
"[State law] provides that if a person returns a ballot for an elector, they must deposit the ballot at the county elections office, or an official dropbox, not later than two days after receiving the ballot or by 8:00pm on Election Day, whichever comes first," the Secretary of State's office said.
The misplaced ballots were not discovered until the next morning, when the PAC said that another member drove them to the Multnomah County Elections Division. Because the ballots were received late, none of the votes were counted.
"On November 13, 2018 the Elections Division received a signed, written complaint from the Multnomah County Elections Director, which alleged a violation of election law. The Elections Division conducted its investigation into the allegations," the Elections Division said in their report to Defend Oregon.
Ultimately, the Elections Division issued a "Notice of Proposed Penalty and Notice of Opportunity to Request Hearing" — proposing a civil penalty against Defend Oregon of $94,750.00 for violating state law.
Defend Oregon may be able to reduce or waive the penalty if it can prove "mitigating circumstances" (one valid circumstance being "the direct result of an error by an elections officer") in a hearing before an administrative law judge, which requires that the PAC respond to the Elections Division notice within 20 days.