By ANDREW SELSKY
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — County clerks in Oregon are inundated with public records requests stemming from “the big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, even while they're already busy preparing for the November election, the secretary of state said Monday.
Secretary of State Shemia Fagan has been visiting Oregon's 36 counties to speak with county clerks and other elections officials, and said she's seen the strain imposed by the avalanche of requests, from populous counties around Portland to Lake County, in southern Oregon near the California border, with only 5,590 registered voters.
“In recent weeks, we’ve seen an influx of public records requests still based on the big lie — the big lie is that the 2020 election was stolen," Fagan said. "The lie is still impacting the operations of our elections workers, nearly two years later.”
Fagan said in a Zoom news conference that as she's traveled around the state, she's noticed fatigue among county clerks and other county elections officials.
"These are seasoned folks who’ve been doing this for decades in Oregon in an extremely nonpartisan way (but) they get so sick of the noise, and it’s just overwhelming,” Fagan said. Several county clerks are retiring in the next year or so, representing over a century of combined elections experience, Fagan said.
How many of those retirements are due to added stress that elections officials are facing was not immediately clear.
The main “myths” that elections officials in Oregon are confronting are that the 2020 election was stolen, that vote-by-mail elections can't be trusted, that machine tabulators are fraudulent and that ballot boxes are not secure, said Oregon Elections Director Deborah Scroggin.
A recent conference hosted by MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, a major 2020 election denier, caused a flood of demands for information, Scroggin said. Lindell hosted a conference in Springfield, Missouri, in August focusing on conspiracy theories.
“These are sort of copy-and-paste records request that we’re being flooded with,” she said. Earlier, they focused on forensic audits. These days, there have also been calls for hand-counts, voting system certification and attempts to undermine trust in drop-off ballot boxes.
Harney County Clerk Derrin “Dag” Robinson, in sparsely populated southeastern Oregon, said he's had about 16 requests regarding the 2020 election as well as dozens of notices of litigation — most of them being identical.
Robinson and the county counsel are the only staff to handle them and it is “time consuming to say the least,” he said.
Deschutes County Clerk Steve Dennison said along with a dozen or so requests for cast-vote record files, they began receiving "litigation hold" requests for information related to elections from 2019 to today.
They have received about 30 emails and letters that "were identical and were copied and pasted from a source," he said, noting that in the past, the clerk's office probably got a couple public records requests a year.
Crook County Clerk Cheryl Seely also said her office has seen an increase in public records request over the past few months, adding to the workload "but at this time, not to the point of needing additional staff."
Jefferson County Clerk Kate Zemke said her office "has seen a significant increase as well."
Oregon elections officials are combating false information with public service announcements on radio, TV and the internet, describing election integrity and the ease of voting in Oregon.
Oregon was the first state to institute vote-by-mail, in which ballots are mailed to voters who can return them either by mail or at official, secured, drop-off boxes. Monday marked one month before ballots will start to be mailed out to voters in Oregon, on Oct. 19, Scroggin said. The last day to print and mail ballots to military and overseas voters is Saturday.
It's not just in Oregon that elections officials are swamped by records requests. It's also happening in many parts of the country.
Fagan said her office will go to the Legislature to request a fulltime public records person to help deal with the requests received by the secretary of state and county elections officials.