State elections officials are puzzled over Republican legislative leaders' claims that 320 ballots "vanished" in a hotly contested race between Alan Bates and Dave Dotterrer.

State elections officials are puzzled over Republican legislative leaders' claims that 320 ballots "vanished" in a hotly contested race between Alan Bates and Dave Dotterrer.

"I don't know where they got that number," said Andrea Cantu, spokeswoman for the Elections Division of the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

Both state and local elections officials say there is an extensive audit trail for every ballot received in the state Senate race between Bates, a Medford Democrat, and Dotterrer, an Ashland Republican.

The Nov. 2 election is expected to be certified today after the Secretary of State's office reviews the Jackson County Elections Center results. Bates leads by 275 votes with a total of more than 50,000 votes cast in the race.

The race has drawn statewide attention because Democrats would hold a 16-14 majority in the Senate if Bates' election stands. The Oregon House is already split 30-30 and a Dotterrer win would add a split Senate to the mix.

Michael Gay, a spokesman for Oregon Senate Republicans, said GOP leaders have sat down with state election officials and still are not satisfied over a discrepancy between the number of ballots reported received on Nov. 3 and later figures released.

"On paper it looks like 320 ballots just vanished," he said. "The answer has been less than forthcoming."

Republican Senate leaders have vowed to ask for a recount once the election is certified today.

Cantu said elections officials are constantly updating numbers during an election cycle. The number of ballots cast fluctuates each time state and local elections officials update their results after the election date.

Ballots may initially show up in the total, but not in the final count for various reasons, Cantu said. For instance, ballots continue to be scanned if they are dropped off after the 8 p.m. election deadline, but ultimately are not counted. Ballots from other counties are counted initially, but are sent to the appropriate counties and counted there. Election officials attempt to track down those who forgot to sign their ballots, those whose signatures don't match their signature on record and others who no longer live at the recorded address.

If the voter cannot be tracked down, the problem ballots are ultimately not counted as part of the final tally.

As the election results are constantly updated, the ballot numbers appear to vary over time.

"That's normal in every election," Cantu said.

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said she, too, was puzzled by claims that 320 votes vanished.

"I don't know where that number is coming from," she said.

She said the county had several hundred ballots that didn't have signatures or in which the address didn't match records.

"We spend hours and hours trying to contact people," Walker said. "We do everything we can do to try to get ahold of them."

The Secretary of State today will release the exact number of problem ballots that couldn't be counted.

Elections officials call various phone numbers to track down a voter. Sometimes they try to contact a person in the same household who might be able to contact the voter.

If those efforts fail, then the ballot isn't counted.

"That's why this process takes so long for certification," Walker said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail