Has Rep. Anna Williams won reelection?
What seemed like a clear victory for House District 52 Rep. Anna Williams (D-Hood River) is now in question. Over the last few days, as votes from Clackamas, Hood River and Multnomah counties have continued to trickle in, Williams' opponent, Jeff Helfrich (R-Hood River), has gained on the incumbent and is now only 94 votes behind.
Around noon on Wednesday, Nov. 4, Helfrich had congratulated Williams on her victory, saying that after 30 years of public service, one successful run for appointment to the House 52 seat in 2017 and two seemingly unsuccessful bids for election to the seat since, he would be turning "toward a new chapter in my life — focusing on family and the needs of the people around me."
But as of Friday afternoon, Helfrich's story had changed as he talled 18,732 votes to Williams' 18,826, leaving him only 94 votes and .24 % of the vote behind. This is a substantial change from Nov. 4, when the Oregon Secretary of State reported incumbent Williams having 17,100 votes, or 52.25% of the vote and Helfrich with 14,830 votes, or 45.31% of the vote.
"The past few days have been a roller coaster of emotions from being down almost 3,000 votes to now under 100," Helfrich said. "We are on the edge of our seat waiting as ballots continue to trickle in and we continue to close the gap. This is why we've told everyone from the beginning that every single vote counts."
Williams garnered the most support from Hood River County, where she had 8,019 votes to Helfrich's 4,204 votes by Sunday, Nov. 8.
In Clackamas and Multnomah counties, Helfrich actually received more votes than Williams. In Clackamas County, Williams received 7,405 votes to Helfrich's 10,353 votes, and in Multnomah County, Williams received 3,402 votes to Helfrich's 4,175 votes.
According to the Oregon Secretary of State, 81.49% of votes had been reported statewide by Nov. 8.
Because of the small margin between Helfrich's and Williams' vote counts, Helfrich is encouraging members of his base to verify that their vote was counted by visiting the Secretary of State's website and checking to see if their ballot was rejected or challenged and to take actions to rectify the situation if there was an issue.
Williams has encouraged all voters in the race to do the same as she and her team await updates to the results.
"As a representative for a rural district, I know how important it is to ensure everyone's voice is heard," Williams said on Sunday morning. "I've encouraged residents to check the status of their ballot with their county clerk and we must ensure every vote is counted. I continue to be extremely grateful to the people of this district for their support, and as we await results I want to thank my campaign staff, supporters and volunteers for all they've done."
With this race has come a feeling of déjà vu for many in the district, as the same candidates competed for this seat in 2018.
Helfrich was appointed in December 2017 to complete the unexpired term of Republican Mark Johnson, who resigned midterm to take a job as a business lobbyist. He was unseated by Williams in the November 2018 election.
Helfrich is a longtime public servant. He served on the Cascade Locks Planning Commission and City Council, the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District Board, in the Air Force during the Gulf War and as a Portland police sergeant.
Williams is an academic adviser for social work students at Simmons College and has taught in middle and high schools in the Hood River, North Wasco and Dufur school districts.
Most of Williams' prior political experience was advocating for communities along the Columbia River Gorge in connection with groups like Aging in the Gorge Alliance — a regional grassroots organization that campaigns for elder rights on topics of housing, food, transportation and caregiving — and with nonprofit groups, which focus on services for women, children and seniors, public health and education.
In her time in the House, she has sponsored multiple bills aimed at police reform and aid for children in unsafe conditions. She also made agriculture a priority. Currently, Williams is involved in task forces aimed at helping the district recover economically and also from the impacts of this year's wildfire season.
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