While official results won’t be available until September 19, the Clackamas County Election Office reported yesterday that they’ve tallied all ballots that were submitted so far for the August special election. Voter turnout was over 17 percent.
There are a few ways that the final count could change:
- Any ballots postmarked on or before August 23 and that reach the Clackamas County Election Office by August 30 will be tallied. Only 8,061 ballots were returned as of August 24, out of the ballots sent to 47,063 registered voters. Technically, that means that almost 40,000 votes could appear in the next few days. Realistically, we may see a few hundred more ballots.
- Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall could find missing ballots and add them to the count. It’s happened before. With the relatively small number of ballots returned in this election, though, this sort of error seems less likely.
- An after-election audit could turn up errors. Such audits are standard, but Oregon’s Secretary of State Shemia Fagan is likely keeping an extra-close eye on Clackamas County following the issues Hall had in tallying primary results in May. As of August 25, even unofficial results had not yet been shared with the State of Oregon’s election reporting system at results.oregonvotes.gov, so any audit will find at least one issue to address.
We’ll likely see any updates on the numbers on August 31 and September 13. September 13 is also the last day to resolve any ballot challenges, such as problems with voters’ signatures.
Oregon City mayoral race
Denyse McGriff took more than three-quarters of the votes in the race to replace Rachel Lyles Smith. She’ll serve through the end of the year, as well as campaign to keep the seat in November’s election.
Dan Berge, a retired business owner, received 10 percent of votes. Allen Bedore and Leslie Wright Jr both took home single digit returns, even though Wright was deemed ineligible as a candidate after ballots were printed. It’s very unlikely that enough additional votes to change the outcome will show up between now and mid-September.
Oak Lodge Water Authority board
Five candidates ran for the five available seats on the new Oak Lodge Water Authority board:
- Paul Gornick
- Ginny Van Loo
- Kevin Williams
- Susan Keil
- Heidi Bullock
The five candidates are also the existing board of directors for the organization that preceded the new authority, the Oak Lodge Water Services special district. While all five candidates were elected to the new board, each person received around 20 percent of the ballots counted. That means that most of the voters who participated in this particular special election only voted for one candidate, rather than for five candidates.
On the ballot, all five candidates were listed together. While instructions noted that five seats were available, many voters likely assumed that they needed to pick just one candidate. It’s a relatively minor user experience flaw on a special election like this, but these numbers highlight how much ballot design impacts selection. As more communities advocate for ranked-choice voting and other options for more equitable results, we also need to push for a new design for Oregon ballots. At the very least, the design should simplify visually distinguishing between races where voters should make a single selection versus races where voters should select multiple candidates.
The turnout for the August special election is a bit lower than I’d expected. The March 2021 special election, during which Lyles Smith was elected mayor of Oregon City, saw 21.55 percent of ballots returned.
There’s a certain sense that Democratic candidates are doing better in primaries and special elections since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion. Prior to that ruling, many political strategists were predicting easy wins for Republicans through this fall’s general election. Neither of the races above were partisan, but they did give us a bit more data to consider. Lower-than-expected turnout in a special election could mean that the demographics most likely to vote in primaries and special elections are less interested in the candidates or issues on the ballot. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out here in Oregon.