Ore. election worker says she did not intentionally alter ballots

Ore. election worker says she did not intentionally alter ballots »Play Video
Deanna Swenson cries during a Thursday news conference after a grand jury indicted her on charges of ballot tampering in Clackamas County. She is joined by her attorney Jason Short.

PORTLAND, Ore. – A former volunteer election worker, who has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of ballot tampering in Clackamas County, said Thursday she did not intentionally alter the ballots and is concerned about her mental health.

Deanna Swenson, 55, and her lawyer, Jason Short, did not dispute the allegations during an afternoon news conference that she had altered the ballots, but Short said there are questions to the health of her mental state when she allegedly did so Oct. 31, just days before Election Day.

"We're not really disputing that she actually did something with those ballots," Short said. "What we are disputing, and what our investigation will look into, was what her mental state was at the time. ... She's confused. I think there are some legitimate mental health issues that we’re going to be looking into with regards to what happened."

A Clackamas County grand jury returned indictments against Swenson. The charges are serious: Three felonies of unlawfully altering a cast ballot, two more felony charges of unlawfully voting more than once and two misdemeanor counts of first-degree misconduct. If convicted, Swenson could face more than 25 years in prison.

Oregon Secretary of State, Kate Brown, who oversees elections in the state, said Swenson had access to more than 3,200 ballots and tampered with six of them.

"I can tell them (the voters) that they can be confident that the results of the election are accurate, because we were able to isolate the impact of the ballot tampering," she said Thursday.

Swenson allegedly used a pencil to fill in ovals on races that had been left empty by the voter. Those six ballots had been filled out in pen.

Swenson said she did not remember altering the ballots.

"When the co-worker pulled the paper from my hand, that's when I realized what I'm being charged for," she said, adding that she's concerned about her health and well-being.

"This is not part of my character," she said. "And it was not an intentional act."

Swenson reportedly altered the ballots in favor of Republicans, but Short said he was not aware of any Republican agenda that some have alleged occurred. He noted Swenson’s husband is a Democrat and acknowledged that Swenson is a registered Republican.

"There was no agenda on her part with regards to trying to change the outcome of any sort of election," Short said. "There's nothing in regards to any sort of organization or committee or anything that she's involved with that she had this agenda to try to change something."

Swenson tearfully apologized to her family, friends, and the community and especially to her husband whom she said has been devastated following the allegations against her.

Short said Swenson will be arraigned Dec. 4 and will enter a not guilty plea.

County counsel Stephen Madkour has said the tampering was reported the Wednesday before Election Day by another elections worker sitting at the same table with Swenson as she processed ballots.

During the investigation, Clackamas County Republican Chairman John Lee said no races were going to be so close that they could be determined by the small number of ballots identified in the investigation.

Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall also came under fire from some quarters after the incident became public knowledge. In 2010, a race also overseen by Hall was put on the Clackamas County primary ballot that was not due to be voted on until November. All of the ballots had to be reprinted at a cost of $120,000.

Election officials said the system in place to deter and check for ballot fraud worked and the incident was promptly reported and dealt with. However, there were no video cameras recording the activities of election staff at the time of the incident.

KATU News reporter Thom Jensen contributed to this report.