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Study: Oregon election staff leaving as 2024 vote looms

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Eric Tegethoff

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(Oregon News Service) Going into a big election year, staffing at elections offices in Oregon is an issue, according to a study. 

Staff-to-voter ratios vary widely between counties depending on their size, but average about one staff member per 27,000 voters statewide. 

Paul Manson - research assistant professor at the Center for Public Service of Portland State University - helped conduct the research, and said there are warning signs flashing as this election year ramps up

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He said it's a challenge for election offices to find workers in this politically charged environment.

"That came up in our interviews where one out of five clerks," said Manson, "we actually had to stop the interviews, because it became so difficult for them to talk about what they're hearing from members of the public - in the sense of sort of attack and threats to their offices to the point where some aren't comfortable even sharing what they do for a living outside of work."

Manson said low pay also makes it hard to recruit and retain people to work in elections offices. He said the county level funding model, which is tied to the real estate market, presents challenges as well.

Manson said these pressures have led election officials to leave the profession.

"It's clearly institutional knowledge that's going to be walking out the door," said Manson, "and it's going to be another contentious potential election cycle where we're going to need to be super sharp and transparent about this work for keeping public trust."

Manson said another pressure on workers is a growing list of public records requests, which offices have deadlines to respond to. He said there are a few ways the state could help election staff.

"It might be creating a state public records request clearinghouse or a training position that helps support these counties in doing that training," said Manson. "So that's a real quick and immediate piece that I think would take a load off of clerks' shoulders. Longer term, reevaluating how funding happens for these offices is also critical."

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.