- Associated Press - Friday, November 21, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The campaign pushing to require labels on genetically engineered foods built an extensive voter-turnout operation leading up to the November election, but their work didn’t stop on Election Day.

Using a new state law that makes public the names of voters whose ballots weren’t counted, usually because of problems with the signature, labeling proponents aggressively reached out to those they thought might be supporters.

As a result, they may have helped push the measure toward an automatic recount. It had been headed for defeat, but late election returns showed it trailing by a razor-thin margin.

“We were successful in getting several thousand challenged ballots counted and included as part of this election, and it’s making a difference,” said Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for the pro-labeling campaign.

On Friday afternoon, Measure 92 was trailing by just 1,100 votes out of more than 1.5 million - a spread of less than 0.1 percent. Oregon law requires a recount if the margin is within 0.2 percent.

Counties have until 5 p.m. Monday to report their final vote tallies to the Secretary of State’s Office, which faces a Dec. 4 deadline to certify the statewide results. A recount would begin after certification, said Tony Green, a spokesman for the office.

At nearly $30 million, the battle over Measure 92 was by far the costliest campaign in Oregon history.

Every election, thousands of Oregon ballots end up not being counted, usually because of problems with the signature. Some voters forget to sign, or their signature evolves over time so it doesn’t match the one on file with their voter registration. In the past, county elections officials have sent letters to affected voters informing them that their ballot wasn’t counted but they could visit the elections office in person to correct the deficiency.

Starting this year, the list of “challenged ballots” was released publicly, allowing the campaigns to nudge voters to take action if they believe they might be supporters.

Before the election, the pro-labeling campaign invested heavily in a voter-registration effort, focusing particularly on the Portland and Eugene areas, Kaushik said. So the campaign had staff and an army of volunteers to contact the voters whose ballots had been rejected.

Labeling proponents also used social media, encouraging their supporters to check whether their friends were on the list of challenged ballots, Kaushik said. Advocacy groups supporting the labeling campaign checked their membership lists against the challenged-ballot database and helped make contact, he said.

“It’s a fair amount of work and inconvenient to get those ballots corrected, so it usually takes multiple contacts,” Kaushik said.

The labeling critics also used the list to reach out to supporters, said Dana Bieber, a spokeswoman for the No on 92 Coalition. Still, the ballots counted late heavily favored the measure’s proponents.

“We are confident that Measure 92 has been defeated, and that will be the case even if there happens to be a recount,” Bieber said.

Oregon’s last statewide recount followed the May 2008 election, for a ballot measure on civil forfeiture. It passed by 681 votes.

Around the country, there were 22 statewide recounts between 2000 and 2012, according to FairVote, a Maryland-based advocacy group. The recounts shifted the final margin by an average of less than 0.03 percent. Three recounts flipped the outcome of the election.

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