Our Opinion: Primary is prologue in many local races
That's the question President Josiah Bartlet, portrayed by veteran actor Martin Sheen, would often ask of his staffers on "The West Wing." It seems appropriate now as we move past another May primary election and look ahead to November.
Not every local race was decided last Tuesday.
One that was decided — although the outcome came as a surprise to anyone who tuned in that night — was the Democratic primary for secretary of state, in which Shemia Fagan came from behind to overtake Mark Hass as more votes were counted last Wednesday.
Hass is a longtime legislator from Washington County. If he had been his party's nominee, it would have set up an interesting November clash between him and one of his legislative neighbors, Kim Thatcher, who lives in Keizer but also represents a swath of Washington County that stretches north to Hillsboro. Rich Vial, a former Scholls state representative, is a potential third-party candidate.
Instead, it will be Fagan bearing Democrats' standard as Oregon's dominant political party attempts to take back the one constitutional statewide office that is held by Republicans.
In Washington County government, while Roy Rogers swept to an easy re-election, the race for Position 1 on the Board of Commissioners will go to a second ballot. Nafisa Fai got the most votes, but she fell a few thousand votes short of a majority. Jeffrey Hindley, who finished about 8 percentage points behind Fai, will also be on the November ballot.
Challengers Cate Arnold and Lacey Beaty held incumbent Denny Doyle well below the magic 50% mark in the Beaverton mayoral race, too. Beaty trailed Doyle in the count by about 9 points; they'll match up in November, albeit for a position that will be substantially weaker come 2021. Voters simultaneously approved a new city charter in Beaverton that puts the city in the market for a full-time manager, who will be appointed by the council instead of directly elected. The mayor will preside over the council instead of running City Hall as he does now.
In neighboring Portland, the incumbent mayor also fell below 50%, with his plurality shrinking to about 49% of the vote in late counting. Ted Wheeler will hope to increase his vote share come November as Sarah Iannarone continues her insurgent campaign into the fall. Two Portland City Council races will also be decided on the November ballot, with no candidate coming close to a majority this month.
A Tigard city councilor and a Tualatin resident will go on to the November ballot as well for a seat on the Metro Council. The District 3 race saw Tigard's Tom Anderson garner close to 36% of the vote, but Gerritt Rosenthal isn't far behind at 30%. The two offer different visions in the race, as you might expect; Anderson is a real estate agent, while Rosenthal is a retired environmental consultant.
Metro District 5 has yet to select its next councilor, too. Former Democratic legislator Mary Nolan was the top vote-getter, but she'll be joined on the November ballot by climate and transit advocate Chris Smith.
District 3 covers most of the Beaverton area, along with Tigard, Tualatin, Wilsonville and Sherwood. District 5 covers North Portland and Northwest Portland, also taking in a chunk of the Bethany and West Haven-Sylvan areas in Washington County.
Some of these races were very close, and in some cases, they were decided by just a few hundred or few thousand votes. It goes to show that every vote counts, as we wrote on this page last week.
In recent years and decades, Oregon has pursued a policy of maximizing voter participation — and out of a population of about 4.2 million statewide, the secretary of state's office counted more than 2.8 million eligible voters in this election. Of them, slightly under half voted this time around. (Participation is typically higher in November.)
The point of democracy is that every citizen gets an equal say in how they are governed. We've often fallen far short of that goal, both in this state and around this country. Even today, there are states that permanently disenfranchise any citizen who has been convicted of a felony; there are states that have arduous voter ID requirements, sometimes forcing people to purchase an identification for the sole purpose of voting if they don't have the documents they need; and there are states, including Oregon, where historically lax campaign finance laws allow well-heeled special interests to "flood the zone" for their preferred candidates, steamrolling candidates with small-donor backing by saturating the airwaves and paying a small army of organizers to phone-bank or go door-to-door.
This November, Oregon voters will have an opportunity to amend the state constitution to explicitly allow limits on campaign contributions. As they do, they'll be casting ballots in envelopes that, for the first time this year, don't need voters to affix their own stamps in order to mail them.
In a growing number of states, both Democrats and Republicans agree that vote-by-mail works. Oregon was the early adopter of vote-by-mail, but it's since been joined not only by "blue states" like Washington and Colorado, but also by "red states" like Utah and North Dakota.
At any time, but especially during a viral outbreak, voting by mail allows the greatest number of people to participate in the democratic process, if they so choose. That's a good thing. And Oregon has proven that vote-by-mail is a safe and secure form of voting, with each ballot matched to a registered voter's signature and a paper trail intact so that if the integrity of an election is ever called into question, or a recount is called, the results can be quickly and accurately verified.
In the coming weeks, naturally, you'll see fewer stories and opinion pieces about elections and voting in the paper. Then, sometime in late August or September, the cycle will get going again. That's how our democratic system works.
In other words, stay tuned — there's more to come.
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