Secretary of State release – Salem, OR — Oregon’s 36 county clerks play a critical role on the front lines of administering Oregon’s elections and are essential in promoting our democracy. But an increasingly toxic political environment, inadequate funding model, and rapidly growing and changing workload are threatening the clerks’ ability to recruit, hire, and retain county elections staff, according to a new study published by Reed College. The study was commissioned by the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division to better understand the changing landscape county clerks face in advance of the 2024 Presidential election year. Researchers at Reed College’s Elections and Voting Information Center (EVIC) spent months interviewing nearly all Oregon county clerks and have compiled the sobering findings in a study to be presented before the Legislature. “This report is a grim but realistic look at what our county clerks face,” said Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade. “But it’s also a testament to their professionalism and ingenuity.” The researchers found: Staffing recruitment and retention is hampered by out-of-date job classifications, compensations, and perceptions of the work. Staffing today is at or below staffing levels from a decade ago. Public records requests are becoming increasingly burdensome, as false information is spread and distrust in elections systems continues to fuel more frequent and complicated requests for information. Local elections offices are experiencing retirements, resignations, and loss of expertise. Since 2020, 34% of county clerks have retired or resigned. Oregon’s funding model for county elections, dependent largely on fluctuations in interest rates and the real estate market, is inadequate for election needs. Counties are already laying off workers because of this outdated funding model. Elections officials and staff are subject to unacceptable levels of abuse, threats, and harassment, driving many of them to quit despite expressing their pride and passion for the work. “We have active shooter training that we’ve done,” said one individual to the researchers. “We kind of know how to recognize some of the signs that somebody might be escalating versus deescalating.” “I saw in [previous Clerk] this love and passion that I didn’t know was there,” said another. “It pushed me into really caring and loving and making sure that people really know what they had, and how important elections are, and the rights they have. And if you are not involved, it’s really hard to see change.” Elections Division staff commissioned the study at the request of the Oregon Association of County Clerks, after hearing concerns from elections officials about the changing electoral landscape. Prior to the study, officials lacked data to fully capture the needs of elections administration in Oregon. This study is a critical first step to understanding the discrepancies in staffing challenges across the state and provides information for Oregon clerks to use when advocating for increased investment. “For the last few years, we have heard hundreds of anecdotes about underfunding and understaffing at county elections offices, both here in Oregon and around the country,” said Secretary Griffin-Valade. “Now, we have some real data to back up those anecdotes. We call on legislators and county governments to read this report and consider its recommendations.” Researchers include several recommendations in the study, directed at both the Secretary of State’s Office and the Oregon Legislature, on ways to provide coordinated and statewide support to county elections officials.