Clackamas County commissioners seeking reelection might have to wait until November to determine whether they'll earn enough votes to serve another four years.
County Commissioners Sonya Fischer and Paul Savas will likely be in the top two of the May 17 count, but it's too early to say whether any candidate will earn the 50% necessary to avoid a November runoff. Winners in either race will not be known until June following Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall's announcement earlier this month that an unknown number of ballots printed for the May 17 primary election have blurred barcodes.
With the election office's ballot-printing fiasco, only 32% of the ballots have been counted by May 20, and the counted ballots skew heavily to Republican voters. As votes are still being slowly counted, much will remain uncertain until June.
Fischer's share of the early count of votes was only 31.7% at 5 p.m. on Friday, but as ballots continue to be slowly counted over the next few weeks, she could theoretically earn more than the 50% necessary to avoid a runoff election.
Meanwhile, fellow Democrat Libra Forde, who is challenging Savas in a separate county board race, is at about 19% after the ballot counting through Friday, but Forde's share of the vote may end up larger than the 44% currently held by Savas when the final tallies come in on June 13. While county commission races are technically nonpartisan, Forde is being supported by Democrats to unseat the incumbent Republican.
Ben West, a Wilsonville city councilor and nurse who previously ran as a Republican for Congress, held a early lead against Fischer with 49% of votes by the end of counting on Friday. His lead is expected to erode in later counts, as Democratic voters who are more likely to support the incumbent were disproportionately affected by the ballot-barcode issue.
Fischer, an attorney and former legislative director in her first full term on the board after being appointed in 2017 to replace Jim Bernard, could get 50% of the final tallies. Based on the 2018 returns, at least 65,000 people will vote in Fischer's race, and only 27,000 have been counted so far. Democratic ballots are disproportionately affected by the barcode issue, so it might be too early to say there will be a runoff. The number of votes that have been counted in the gubernatorial primaries show an estimated size of the disproportionate impact of defective barcodes. By the end of the week, there were about 6,000 Democratic votes counted so far in Clackamas County, out of about 36,000 registered Dems countywide who voted in the 2018 primaries. This year's especially high turnout, 8 percentage points higher than in 2018, also could bolster the Democratic candidates in the commission races.
By the end of the day on Friday, there were about 20,000 Republican votes counted so far in Clackamas County out of 32,0000 registered countywide voting in 2018 primaries. If all of the remaining Democratic ballots go for Fischer, and all of the Republican ballots go to other candidates in the race, Fischer would earn 55% of the vote. This is an oversimplification, since about one-quarter of voters don't mark their ballots in county races, but the calculation illustrates why it's too early to say that Fischer will be heading to a runoff. A similar calculation could be made in the race between Forde and Savas, showing that their initial numbers could flip in later returns.
With their lessening leads, Savas and West are unlikely to get more than 50% of the final tally to avoid a November runoff election with the candidate getting the second-most number of votes in each race.
Clackamas County's initial voter turnout was low in the election, with only 21% of voters turning in their ballots by the Monday before the election. But a large wave of additional ballots came in on election day and trickling in with postmarks in the following week, with total turnout over 37%. Nearly 47% of registered voters in the county returned their ballots in the 2020 presidential primary election, compared with nearly 29% in the 2018 midterm primary election, over 50% in 2016 and about 31% in 2014.
Savas, a longtime local business owner, would be entering his fourth term in the nonpartisan role since unseating Bob Austin in 2010. Forde is a nonprofit leader and chair of the North Clackamas School Board. Following Savas and Forde in the running for Position 2 are truck driver Steve Frost with 12.8% of votes, electrician Bill Osburn with 13.3% of votes and local business owner Mark Robert Johnson with 9.8% of votes.
By the end of counting on Friday, Sandy realtor Dana Hindman-Allen was tracking at third in the Fischer race with 16.4% of votes, and Amazon employee Evan Geier got less than 3% of votes.
Savas has raised approximately $95,360 towards his campaign thus far, with roughly $70,310 in expenditures, according to state filing records. His supporters include the Clackamas County Peace Officers Association, the regional Home Builders Association, state Sens. Bill Kennemer and Chuck Thomsen, and seven mayors in the county, per his website.
He has strongly opposed state efforts to toll I-205 as a member of multiple regional transportation boards. He told Pamplin Media Group he intends to continue advocating for affordable housing and jobs as well as equity for the county's underserved populations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forde's campaign has raised roughly $138,580 this campaign cycle and spent nearly $105,180, state records show. She's received backing from the Oregon Trail Democrats and several community-specific organizations such as the Black Caucus of county Democrats, as well as support from state Sens. Kathleen Taylor and Rob Wagner and six state representatives, according to her website.
Forde said a key priority of hers is advocating for future generations, which she stated to Pamplin Media Group would include a focus on access to education, housing, climate issues, addiction, affordability, and bringing new perspectives to the board as the first Black woman on the county board if elected.
West's campaign has raised around $56,400 with approximately $56,720 in expenditures, per state records. Supporters of his campaign include the ??Peace Officers Association and two county mayors, per his website.
He told Pamplin Media Group that he aims to bring an independent perspective as well as the experience of a practicing health care worker to the board, additionally advocating for lower taxes and no tolls on I-205.
Fischer's campaign during this cycle has raised the most out of commission candidates for either position thus far at approximately $234,100, with about $213,160 in expenditures, according to state filing records.
Her supporters include Congressman Kurt Schrader, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, state Sen. Kayse Jama and six state representatives, as well as the Home Builders Association, the Northwest Oregon Labor Council and other labor unions, per her website.
Fischer told Pamplin Media Group that she prioritizes being a voice for residents and looks to continue pushing for increased public access to a network of resources serving community needs related to safety, housing, health, family justice, economic opportunities and more if reelected.
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