Jackson County was blue after all, but just barely

Jackson County has turned blue after all.

The latest final, unofficial election results show President-elect Barack Obama holding a slim 47-vote margin in the county.

"I am shocked and thrilled," said Paulie Brading, chairwoman of the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee.

Last week, Republican John McCain led by 142 votes, but ballots from overseas and other sources continued to trickle in.

As election officials pored over the last remaining ballots, the count as of Wednesday was 49,090, or 48.58 percent, for Obama, and 49,043, or 48.53, for McCain. Elections officials said the numbers are not likely to change before the election results are certified on Nov. 24.

Brading said Democratic officials were hoping Jackson County would have the distinction of being the only blue county south of Eugene.

"I know I'll be getting calls from all over the state," said Brading.

Before this latest round of election results, Brading said she had received calls expressing sympathy that the county hadn't quite turned blue.

When the election results are published, Brading predicted there might be precincts in typical Republican strongholds such as Central Point that went for Obama.

Bryan Platt, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee, didn't like seeing a majority of the county vote for Obama, even by a smidgen.

"I saw it this morning," Platt said. "I don't like it, but I saw it."

Platt expressed concern about the integrity of the election, particularly because Republican observers noticed the tabulation machines stalled sometimes on the long, 17-inch ballots.

"I'm not confident these votes are accurate," he said. "The ballots — these machines were spewing them all over the place. They would fold one and the next one would use it as a launching ramp."

Despite his concern about the machines, Platt said he is impressed with the integrity of the elections officials and the staff that participated in handling the ballots.

After the election is certified on Nov. 24, the Jackson County Elections Center will conduct a hand count of Precinct 44 in Medford and Precinct 4 in Ashland to double-check results.

Election workers will specifically count the races for president and state treasurer as well as Measure 56. The results of the hand count will be compared to the machine count as a way of verifying the results.

Platt said he will be interested to see if the recount shows a discrepancy with what the machines tabulated.

"I don't see anything but 100 percentage accuracy as anything less than tolerable," he said.

Brading said she had confidence in the outcome of the election locally and so did the Democratic observers.

"I believe there is a great deal of integrity in the Jackson County elections office," she said. "Nothing untoward was ever reported."

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said the tabulation machines did have difficulty dealing with the extra-long ballots, but she said she has the utmost confidence that every vote was counted accurately.

"Those kind of issues with the stoppages of the machine are common," she said.

Audit trails also confirmed that the number of votes tabulated by the machines corresponded with the number of ballots counted by elections' workers, she said.

Walker said the machines stopped because of a fold in the ballot, but that doesn't alter the accuracy of the count. There had been discussion of printing two pages for each ballot, but then the Elections Center would have had to count some 200,000 pieces of paper rather than 100,000, she said.

The hand recount also will be another way to confirm the accuracy of the machines, Walker said.

"The utmost issue for us is the integrity of the ballot," said Walker. "It is to ensure the voters' voice is heard."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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