Uncounted ballots in Multnomah County could impact close races
Multnomah County's elections director says elections staff still have tens of thousands of votes left to count Wednesday, May 18, the day after election day.
The remaining unprocessed ballots could impact two highly contested races, in which runoff elections appear likely and multiple candidates are vying for second place.
In the race for Multnomah County chair, Jessica Vega Pederson has secured her spot in a runoff with 40% of the vote as of Wednesday afternoon.
Currently in second place is Sharon Meieran, who has 19%. About 6,000 votes now separate Meieran from candidate Sharia Mayfield, who has 15%. Also, Lori Stegmann currently has 13% of the vote.
An even closer contest for second place has emerged in the race for Position 3 on the Portland City Council. Incumbent Jo Ann Hardesty has secured a spot in a runoff with 41% of the vote.
Candidates Rene Gonzalez and Vadim Mozyrsky are in an extremely tight contest with the candidates receiving 24% and 23% of the vote, respectively. Only 900 votes separated the candidates as of Wednesday afternoon.
In both races, if no one receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates advance to a runoff election in November.
It's the first statewide election in which ballots mailed and postmarked by election day will count, as long as elections offices receive them no later than May 24. Elections officials have said it may take days or even weeks before close races can be called. Election results must be finalized by June 13.
Multnomah County elections staff were working Wednesday to count about 40,000 unprocessed ballots, said Tim Scott, director of the Multnomah County elections division.
Once they've finished with those ballots, staff will move on to process an additional roughly 13,500 ballots the elections office received from the U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday morning, Scott said.
The gap between the candidates in second and third place in both the county chair and city council Position 3 races grew as more election results were reported overnight Tuesday. The widening gap suggests the candidates in second place are solidifying their position as more ballots are processed.
Meieran's lead over Mayfield grew by more than 1,000 votes between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. — the last time the elections office updated voting results.
Gonzalez's lead over Mozyrsky grew more modestly by about 100 votes, elections office reports show.
"People are really utilizing that postmark bill," Scott said, referring to the state legislation passed last year allowing ballots postmarked on election day to count.
He said the elections office typically doesn't receive a lot of ballots on election day, but it did this year. The office received about 13,000 ballots on election day Tuesday, he said.
Low staffing levels are hindering the elections office's ability to quickly process ballots coming in late in the election, Scott said.
"We got a lot more ballots on election day than we had staffing for," he said. "Like a lot of organizations, we've been struggling with staffing due to sickness."
The elections office's next update to its election tallies will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Scott said he expects the elections office to continue receiving ballots for several days.
The county's voter turnout as of early Wednesday morning was 32%. The proportion is far lower than the total voter turnout during the May primary of 2020 when 51% of Multnomah County voters cast ballots. Voter turnout during the 2018 May primary was 31%.
Vega Pederson, Meieran and Stegmann all currently serve on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. Mayfield is an employment discrimination lawyer and adjunct law professor at Willamette University.
Hardesty was first elected to the Position 3 seat on the Portland City Council in 2018. Gonzalez is an attorney and business owner. Mozyrsky is a federal administrative law judge.
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