A city review of the discrepancy in the number of ballots recorded on Election Day and in a subsequent recount in a close race for an at-large seat on the Portland City Council turned up additional missing ballots, though officials say the outcome of the race remains the same.

Roberto Rodriguez won the at-large race for City Council with 8,560 votes compared to Brandon Mazer’s 8,534, according to a memo from City Clerk Katherine Jones and Acting Corporation Counsel Jen Thompson to the mayor and city council. An additional 14 ballots were deemed “exhausted,” which means they were not part of the vote tally, but they would not have changed the outcome of the race even if they had all been counted and gone to Mazer.

The final tally comes after the city review turned up 45 auxiliary ballots that officials believe were not tallied during the recount. Auxiliary ballots include write-ins or ballots marked in a way that cannot be read by a scanner and that must be processed manually and added to computer totals.

“It was a pretty good recap,” Rodriguez said of the memo. “The only new information I wasn’t aware of was the clerk’s office, after the recount, did their own investigation and found some auxiliary ballots which did not impact the final outcome.”

Rodriguez said he hasn’t made any official requests to the city, but in the future would like the opportunity to give recommendations on ways to improve the recount process. For example, instead of having teams of volunteers individually count ballots and then check each other’s work, Rodriguez said having team members look at ballots together could eliminate a step of additional people handling ballots. “In general, I think the less the ballots are handled, the fewer chances there are for discrepancies,” he said.

Mazer said he was relieved to know the extra ballots had been found and the discrepancy in the number of missing ballots was relatively minor. “It’s good to know the machines are relatively accurate and they were able to find the votes,” Mazer said. “Even more assuring is it didn’t change the outcome and the decision I made on recount day was the correct one.”

The memo, which the city shared in a news release Monday, follows what was originally a 36-ballot discrepancy between the number of ballots recorded on Election Day and the number that appeared in a hand recount after the two candidates in an instant runoff found themselves in a rare ranked-choice tie, with 8,529 votes each.

Mazer initially was deemed the winner after his name was selected in a “drawing lots” process used to settle the tie. Rodriguez quickly requested a recount, which he could only do after a winner was declared.

Rodriguez prevailed in the recount and was officially named the race’s winner after Mazer conceded Nov. 10. But the city also pledged to undertake a review of the discrepancy in ballots, which it speculated at the time could have been due to an overcount by the voting machines, stemming either from rejected ballots or jammed machines.

The review, however, found an envelope containing 45 auxiliary ballots had been manually entered into the electronic records and included in the computer totals on Election Day but had not been counted or tallied by the candidates’ teams during the manual recount on Nov. 9, according to the memo. 

The envelope was found in one of the ballot boxes.

“For reasons that are not entirely clear, although the envelope with the 45 auxiliary ballots was in the box and located on the counting table for the counting teams to count, the team with that particular box of ballots appears not to have counted them – perhaps because of a misunderstanding by counters as to whether they should be counted or not,” the memo said. “We attribute this to simple human error.”

It is not possible to definitively determine the reason for the nine-vote difference between the initial estimation of a 36-ballot gap and the 45 that were later found, according to the memo, although the city clerk has been able to attribute most of it to a single district and recount team.

Of the 45 ballots, 20 were for Mazer, 11 for Rodriguez and 14 were deemed “exhausted,” such that they wouldn’t further impact the vote tally. An exhausted ballot is a ballot that does not rank any continuing candidate, contains an overvote at the highest continuing ranking or contains two or more sequential skipped rankings before its highest continuing ranking in a ranked choice election, according to state law.

Ultimately, the memo said, the election outcome remains unchanged.

“We hope this overview of the election and recount process and the accounting of the clerk’s investigation provides some assurance to the Council, the candidates, and the public that the official results and the declared winner of the 2021 at-large race are correct,” it states. “We recognize that the accuracy of our election results and the integrity of our elections processes are foundational to the public trust and to the legitimacy of the city’s representative form of government.

“It was, therefore, critically important to us that those results and processes be fully reviewed and that lingering questions be answered as fully and as transparently as possible.”

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