May 2023 Voters’ Guide — Portland, Oregon

What to know before voting

Your ballot is due back by 8:00 p.m. on May 16. You can mail back your completed ballot or drop it off at one of the many official ballot drop sites (most public libraries have one!).

If you have not received your ballot by May 4 and you live in Clackamas or Washington County, contact your county elections office for a replacement ballot. Wait until May 8 if you’re in Multnomah County, because Multnomah County’s election office wound up reprinting ballots, which pushed back mailing those ballots.

While ballot measures will definitely be decided in this election, candidates must win an outright majority to actually win during this election. Any races ending without a candidate receiving TK percent of the vote will go to a runoff in November.

That said, there may not be a lot of races in this election that actually require a run off. By my count, 64 percent of races in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties are uncontested (with only one candidate running), with a further 20 races without any candidates at all.

CountyTotal racesUncontested racesRaces without candidatesPercent of races contested

That leaves 72 races to consider. I haven’t covered all 72 below because I’m just one person. Furthermore, there’s not a lot of information available on a lot of candidates for school, fire, and water boards. Many of these candidates are running for office for the first time. More than a few have no online presence (including social media accounts matching the name they’re campaigning under). As usual, I’m only including races where I can make a recommendation below. You can find more details about my recommendation process at the end of this guide.

Ballot measures

We’ve seen several social safety net programs introduced or expanded through ballot measures recently, such as Multnomah County’s Preschool for All. These voter-driven initiatives are useful, but they have some drawbacks:

Despite all this, I expect to see more of these efforts and I think they’re important. Even minimal safety net programs are tough to get through the Oregon State Legislature, Portland City Council, and other governmental bodies these days, despite how desperately we all need these kinds of supports. But that doesn’t mean that I think these ballot measures are a good sign — they’re clunky workarounds in a broken system. A few major reforms would make them either unnecessary or less of a hassle for voters:

I’m not convinced any of those reforms will happen in the near future. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meanwhile, we’ve got some ballot measures to vote on.

26-238 — Establish eviction representation for all in Multnomah County — Yes

Since September 2022, Multnomah County renters have experienced evictions at more than double pre-pandemic rates. Just 3 percent of those evicted had lawyers. The system obviously favors landlords. Since we’re not currently prepared to completely rebuild our court system from scratch, eviction defense is the most practical way to rebalance the system. This ballot measure, if passed, will guarantee that all renters being evicted can consult legal counsel, reducing the number of evictions, as well as reducing the stress and impact of such proceedingsThe entire annual budget for this effort will be about $15 millionGiven the direct connection between eviction and homelessness, this measure offers a particularly cost-effective strategy for keeping our housing crisis from growing. If you want to dig more into the details, start with Piper McDaniel’s deep-dive on the ballot measure for Street Roots.

26-240 — Renew Portland Children’s Levy — Yes

The Portland Children’s Levy was first approved by voters in 2002. It must be renewed by voters every five years. Renewing the levy means continuing to pay roughly 40 cents for every $1,000 worth of real estate you own in Portland through 2028. If you own a house assessed at $500,000, you’ll continue to pay roughly $200 per year towards the levy. Last year, funds from the Portland Children’s Levy fed more than 12,000 children, in addition to providing other services to 10,000 children — 75 percent of whom are people of color. If you want to dive into the details of what the Portland Children’s Levy will be funding in the next year, their 2023-2024 budget is online. Failing to renew this levy will eliminate crucial programs for youth in Portland.

County Commissions

Multnomah County Commissioner

Multnomah County has a special election this year because Jessica Vega Peterson won the race for county commission chair last fall. Since November, Diane Rosenbaum has served as interim commissioner for District 3. Rosenbaum formerly represented Southeast Portland in the Oregon Senate. The winner of the special election will serve until the end of 2024.

District 3 — Ana del Rocío

Ana del Rocío won a seat on the David Douglas school board in 2017. Since then, she’s been working across a variety of issues: she was the first the executive director of the Oregon Futures Lab, has worked on a slate of projects with Multnomah County, and holds a variety of board seats. Even when she’s experienced difficulties — such as being arrested unjustly by TriMet police — she’s created opportunities to improve the situation for everyone affected.

Del Rocío is prioritizing housing in her campaign and basing her priorities off of the fact that homelessness is a failure of policy. She’s committed to evidence-based solutions. Furthermore, del Rocío was, at one time, policy director for Vega Pederson, and will likely be able to work comfortably with her former boss. She’s not the leading fundraiser in the race (that’s Julia Brim-Edwards, with her ties to Nike and local governments), but del Rocío is doing very respectably, even though she has chosen to refuse donations from police / prison / incarceration industries.

Community Colleges

Mt. Hood Community College

Zone 5 Director — Dana Stroud

Dana Stroud’s work on the Gresham Charter Review Committee and on the board of a charter school seem like they’re setting her up for success as a director of Mt. Hood Community College. Her opponent doesn’t seem like a bad choice but Stroud’s wealth of endorsements from people involved in education tips the scale in her favor.

Education Service Districts

Multnomah Education Service District

Just what is the Multnomah Education Service District? What does it (and the other education service districts in Oregon) do? MESD works with school districts on school health services, technology, students with specific educational needs (disability accommodations, migrants, incarceration) as well as operates its own schools. The service districts are a way to pool resources for programs districts can’t operate individually.

The elections for ‘Position 1, Zone 5 Director’ and ‘Position 3, Zone 2 Director’ are both for candidates to complete other people’s terms. Both Susie Jones and Mary Botkin were elected in May 2021 (to Position 1 and Position 5 respectively) but resigned later in 2021.

Position 1, Zone 5 Director — Samuel Henry

Samuel Henry was appointed in August 2021 to fill Jones’ seat until this election. That technically makes Henry an incumbent. He has a long history of work in education, including a stint on the Oregon Board of Education under Governor Ted Kulongoski, working as a director of school desegregation programs on the federal level, and teaching educators at Portland State University.

Position 3, Zone 2 Director — Renee W. Anderson

Renee Anderson has 45 years of experience in education, both as a teacher and leading programs around math achievement. She has a reputation of improving education for students of color, something that MESD always needs more help with. While Anderson’s many endorsements (including leaders of both PAT and OEA) are impressive, I found students’ perspectives on Anderson more noteworthy: her classes don’t sound like the easiest to get through but her students saw her efforts on their behalf and valued her presence.

Position 5, Zone 1 Director — Denyse O. Peterson

Denyse Peterson was appointed in 2018 to finish out a term and then was elected in 2019 to her first full-term. Her appointment made history because it meant that the MESD board was all women for the first time ever. Peterson brings a valuable perspective to MESD’s board — she’s an administrative assistant at Portland Community College and knowledgable about the sorts of behind-the-scenes logistical work necessary to empower both students and teachers. Additionally, Peterson is an AFT member, has served on a variety of governmental committees, and volunteers with a long list of organizations.

Position 7, Zone 3 Director — Katrina Doughty

Katrina Doughty’s work with the Oregon Health Authority includes coordinating regional field operations for COVID vaccination. I don’t know about you but having someone on each school board with a good understanding of COVID still seems like a good idea to me. Doughty is an incumbent, as well as MESD’s current vice-chair and a director of the Oregon School Board Association. She’s currently the youngest member, although that will change with Danny Cage’s election.

School Districts

Portland School District 1J

Zone 3 Director — Patte Sullivan

While I don’t usually include races for which I’m not recommending a candidate in this guide, I wanted to note that Derrick Peterson withdrew his candidacy on May 3.

Update: Peterson is sending mixed messages on his withdrawal, implying that he might take the seat if he wins the election. Given that Peterson withdrew due to connections to Christian nationalist organizations coming to light, this is concerning. Furthermore, even if he wins but chooses not to take office, there are rumors that the Portland Public School board will select someone who is not a candidate in the race to take Peterson’s place. With this change, I feel comfortable recommending voting for Patte Sullivan.


Recommendation considerations

First, a few housekeeping details:

  • Races without recommendations are not listed in this guide, with limited exceptions. That includes both races with only one candidate and races where no candidate stands out as a good choice. 
  • Recommendations are not necessarily enthusiastic. While recommended candidates are better than the alternatives, the very nature of how we conduct elections limits participation. There are plenty of races where the best candidate is still likely to cause harm.
  • Only ballot measures that directly impact Portland residents are included. Residents of Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas Counties who live in other municipalities or in unincorporated areas should expect to see more measures on your ballots.

When creating this voters’ guide, I started by collecting as much information about each candidate as possible. This work is much more difficult for school board races and other sub-municipal elections. That’s partly due to these elections occurring in years without larger elections — without media attention on the level received by federal or state-level elections, many voters don’t even know these elections are occurring. However, the lack of information is also the result of the type of folks typically running for these positions: many are running for the first time and often don’t come from backgrounds that generate a lot of media attention.

I looked for key characteristics that correspond to effective governance, most of which aren’t easily measurable: a commitment to transparency, the ability to work with and prioritize marginalized communities, a willingness to use evidence-based strategies, and a track record of completing projects requiring coordination with multiple communities. Wherever possible, I tried to recommend candidates focused on improving circumstances for all Portland residents — not just their immediate constituents, people eligible to vote, or people like themselves.

If you’re curious about why I’ve chosen to not recommend a given candidate, reasons may include:

  • actively promotes conspiracy theories (including regarding the results of the 2020 election)
  • a candidate is unopposed (or functionally unopposed, in some cases where a second candidate may have registered to run but has not actively campaigned)
  • has done clear harm to either individuals or communities and has refused to participate in accountability processes
  • demonstrates a lack of understanding about the powers and duties of the position they want (for instance, campaigning for a Congressional seat on issues decided by local school boards)

In the event new information becomes available before the end of voting on May 16, I’ll update recommendations here and flag any changes. In my experience, new reporting often comes out in between the dates when ballots are mailed out and when they’re due back.


This article was updated on May 10, 2023. A previous version is available on the Wayback Machine.

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at