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School board race between Debbie Hays, Jeana Gonzales too close to call until at least June 7.

At first glance it may seem like candidates who advocated fully reopening Oregon City schools in the May 18 election swept all four school board races to create a new majority on the seven-member board.

Michael CancholaAt least three out of the four reopening candidates won their races, but a fourth race remains undecided, potentially for two more weeks. In the unofficial results posted May 26, school reopening advocate Debbie Hays was leading by 53 votes with 50.01% to Jeana Gonzales' 49.51%.

Calling the race between Hays and Gonzales will have to wait until at least June 7, however, because that's County Election Clerk Sherry Hall's deadline for posting the certified results. In the meantime, Hall wrote there were more than 800 voters in the school district who had signature issues with their ballots that could potentially swing the election either way.

Multiple Oregon City News readers on May 28 questioned Hall's written statement, saying that the number of ballots with signature issues is closer to 100 in OCSD, and 800 was the countywide number. If so, 100 ballots in play dims Gonzales' chances of ultimately winning the election, although it is still possible Gonzales could close the gap of 52 votes.

Voters who either forgot to sign their ballots or whose signatures changed significantly since they registered as a voter have until June 1 to submit new signatures to the elections office. They should all have received letters from the elections office about their signature issues, and supporters of both Hays and Gonzales have been contacting these voters as well to encourage them fix their signatures by the deadline.

Certified results on June 7 might not be the end of the story in the Hays-Gonzales race. Oregon requires an automatic recount in the event of a tie or when the margin between the winning candidate and the next closest candidate is less than or equal to one-fifth of a percentage point of the total vote for both candidates. Given the total number of people who cast ballots for Hays and Gonzales, if the margin of votes between the two candidates is 19 or less, the certified count will force a recount, likely taking place the week of June 14.

One thing that's clear from the election results is a surge in interest in voting for Oregon City School Board candidates. About 9,500 OC voters cast ballots for candidates in the current election, compared to between 5,300 and 5,500 votes cast for OCSD board candidates in the 2017 and 2019 elections.

Regardless of which first-time candidate wins the election for OCSD Board Position 4, Hays or Gonzales will be adding diversity to the board. Gonzales traces her Mexican heritage on both sides of her family, including her immigrant great-grandfather, while Hays is first-generation Asian American whose mother still resides in Taiwan.

With the results being so close, Hays said the winner of the race is going to have to represent everyone in Oregon City, not just their own opinions.

"About half of the people voted for Jeana, so I'm going to have to represent their opinions as well," Hays said. "One thing was clear: people wanted change, and having a board with more diversity is a strong suit."

OC school reopening candidate Michael Canchola, who won his race by more than 54% in unofficial returns, will also add diversity to the board. In paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr., whom Canchola called a "wise man," the OC candidate explained why he mentioned his Hispanic heritage in filing documents for the seat, but not in the Voters' Pamphlet.

"I'm a guy that judges people on the content of their character," Canchola said. "I come from a wonderful mixed heritage and I ran on my character of giving back to the community over the years, but I'm proud of my heritage."

Canchola works in the construction industry, graduated from OCHS and had his own children attend OC schools. Regardless of final vote tallies, he believes school board members will all push to get children back in school full-time this fall.

"We need to bring that confidence back that it's safe to go to school," he said. "It'll be a positive for the community, which has had a lot of frustration about moving too slow on reopening."

Currently the president of the Oregon City Youth Football Association, Canchola has coached several youth football teams, along with serving as head track coach for St. John the Apostle School.

"I'm honored to be elected and to serve the community, which is what I've been doing for years through sports and other activities. Now I'll be doing something different, but I'll still be president of Oregon City football this year," he said.


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