Robocalls on close race tie up county elections center

Robocalls to Jackson County residents Tuesday triggered an avalanche of inquires at the Elections Center from voters worried whether their ballots were being counted in the state Senate race.

"It is really inundating us," said Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker. "We've had hundreds of calls."

Senate Republican leaders are paying for the automated calls this week to prod voters who haven't cleared up signature problems with the Elections Center. They are trying to get enough votes to give Dave Dotterrer an edge in his bid to unseat Sen. Alan Bates in the Nov. 2 election.

Bates, a Medford Democrat, holds a 305-vote lead over Dotterrer, an Ashland Republican, in the latest election results, with fewer than 1,000 votes left to count.

If Bates wins, both the House and Senate will have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

The robocalls allow a voter to press a button on the phone to be transferred directly to the Elections Center.

Walker said her office has nothing to do with the calls, stressing that the Elections Center strives to be non-partisan while making sure every vote counts.

Because of the overwhelming call volume, her staff, which averages three or four, wasn't able to deal with other election issues on Tuesday. Walker herself fielded calls from voters who had received a robocall.

The automated calls urge voters in Senate District 3 to make sure their vote is counted and to clear up any issues with signatures before the 4 p.m. deadline Friday at the Elections Center, which will be closed on Thursday for Veterans Day.

"The control of the Senate rests on how the votes are counted," said Michael Gay, spokesman for Senate Republican leaders.

He said Jackson County is the only area in the state where robocalls are being made because of how close the Bates/Dotterrer race is and how many votes are still being processed.

Gay didn't know whether the robocalls were targeting just Republicans or how many calls were being made. Walker said she received calls from members of different parties.

Gay said Republicans requested a list of the challenged signatures so his party could call the voters directly. Elections officials said they don't reveal the names of the challenged signatures for confidentiality reasons.

The challenged signatures are being reviewed because they don't match those on record. Ballots rejected by the tabulating equipment are also being reviewed by elections officials. The election will be certified on Nov. 22.

The Secretary of State did provide a list of inactive voters, which might include some of these challenged signatures, from both Clackamas County and Jackson County at the request of Democrats.

The list of inactive voters is current up to Oct. 22 in Jackson County but up to Nov. 1 in Clackamas County. Gay said Republicans would like a more complete list for Jackson County.

Andrea Cantu-Schomus, spokesperson for the Secretary of State's Office, said the lists of inactive voters are just the most recent information provided by each county. "Clackamas County just got to it more recently," she said. "The numbers reflect what the counties had at the time."

She said Jackson County had staffing issues because of illness at the time of the election.

Cantu-Schomus said it's difficult to say whether the lists could contain some of the challenged signatures, but it is possible.

Many on the lists could be the result of ballots being undeliverable at addresses on record, she said.

Senate Republican leaders are closely watching the Bates/Dotterrer race because they might consider a recount after the election is certified.

"I think that will be a measure of last resort," Gay said.

Bates hasn't claimed victory, and Dotterrer said he wants to wait until all the votes are counted before calling the race.

On election night, Dotterrer had a 1,200-vote lead over his opponent that disappeared as more ballots were processed.

Last Friday, Bates had a 265-vote lead that dropped to 256 votes on Monday. By Tuesday night, Bates' lead had widened to 305 votes.

The Elections Center urges voters who have received a letter about a challenged signature to head down to the office to get the matter cleared up.

"Don't ignore those letters," Walker said. "Get them into us as soon as possible."

Damian Mann is a reporter with the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4476, or e-mail

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