Could Tigard's light rail measure end up in recount?
'Yes' on Measure 34-255 clings to a 0.53 percentage point lead as of Wednesday morning.
Unofficial results from Tuesday's election show Tigard voters closely split over whether to authorize their city government to support plans to bring MAX light rail to Tigard.
When the first election returns started coming in at 8 p.m. Tuesday, it was clear Measure 34-255 was a dogfight "yes" led by just a 619-vote margin. As more ballots were tallied Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, that margin has shrunk to just 119 votes out of 22,357 counted so far.
Oregon law requires an automatic recount if the margin separating "yes" from "no" on a measure is equal to or less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the total votes cast in the race. That puts Measure 34-255 outside of automatic recount range for now, but it's close. "Yes" has 50.3 percent support as of Wednesday morning 50.266 percent, to be more precise.
"We have 20 days after an election to certify the results," Mickie Kawai, Washington County's elections manager, told KOIN 6 News, Pamplin Media Group's news partner, on Wednesday. "And as of today, the day after, we have a lot of ballots that are still in transit. In other words, somebody may have dropped the ballot in another county. ... So we're in sort of a mode of exchanging ballots right now. We could pick as much as two to five thousand ballots from Multnomah (County), as well as from Clackamas (County)."
The city of Tigard sent out a press release Wednesday morning announcing that the measure appears to have passed.
"Tigard voters have allowed us to keep planning for light rail to come to Tigard. We will continue to be at the table to bring Tigards voice for what light rail will be for this part of the region," Mayor John L. Cook, who ran the "yes" campaign, was quoted as saying in the release. "This measure did not do anything financial, but next up is choosing the alignment that will come through the city, and asking for funding for the light rail extension from voters all over the region in 2018."
Meanwhile, Arthur Crino, who ran the "no" campaign, told The Times Wednesday morning he is "disappointed" by the result. But he noted that Tigard should have another chance to weigh in as the light rail project progresses.
"As Mayor Cook said, this is not a tax measure. We're going to have another election," Crino said. "We have an opportunity to vote on the tax involved."
He credited the "yes" campaign for appearing to get the measure passed.
"The pro people outmaneuvered us, they outworked us or something," Crino remarked.
Crino said that with the closeness of the result, he is "inclined to explore" the option of requesting a recount in the race.
While the current margin between "yes" and "no" on Measure 34-255 is outside automatic recount range, Oregon law allows a voter to appeal for ballots to be recounted in a measure election. It also remains conceivable that as more votes are added to the count, the measure will end up with less than 0.2 percentage points separating "yes" from "no."
One of the challenges in parsing incomplete election returns is that it is hard to know how many more votes remain to be counted.
When Tigard voters approved the amendment to their city charter in a March 2014 special election that set up this showdown, it passed with just 5,094 votes a victory margin of 230 votes for "yes" on Measure 34-210 in that race. But turnout in that election was just 36.9 percent, according to the Washington County Elections Office.
Another past light rail vote might be more instructive. In November 2012, during the previous presidential election, Tigard voters overwhelmingly passed Measure 34-203, requiring voter approval for any tax or fee to pay for light rail construction. Turnout that year in Washington County was 81.9 percent, and 21,908 votes were cast on Measure 34-203.
The Oregon secretary of state's website for reporting election results showed 72.4 percent voter turnout in Washington County as of Wednesday morning, with the next update not expected until 3 p.m. Thursday.
In 2012, official results show that 238,969 ballots were cast in Washington County. The 2016 tally has already exceeded that number, with 246,334 ballots counted so far, according to the unofficial results on the secretary of state's website. But there are almost 50,000 more eligible voters in the county this year than there were four years ago.
If voter turnout were on par with 2012 in Washington County although it appears to be down in many other parts of the country then there could be about 32,000 more ballots to be counted countywide. By total population, Tigard makes up almost 9 percent of Washington County, so if the numbers of registered voters were equivalent, turnout in Tigard were level with the countywide average and ballots from Tigard represented roughly an equal proportion of those yet to be counted in all of Washington County all pretty significant suppositions that would mean more than 2,800 Tigard ballots left to be counted.
But there's another wrinkle to this election. Oregon's voter rolls were expanded this year through a new automatic registration law, and it is unclear how many of those automatically registered voters ended up sending in their ballot. Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins told the Portland Tribune on Monday she was "confident that we will end up with another record-breaking election, in terms of the number of ballots cast." But as the unofficial results show, with more voters registered this year than there were four years ago, it is possible to both have more ballots cast and significantly lower voter turnout than in 2012.
The Measure 34-255 race remains too close to call as of Wednesday, with Kawai saying it could go "either way."
If additional ballots that are counted further erode the margin for "yes," an automatic recount is possible. But if there simply aren't many more ballots that have not already been tabulated, the outstanding votes would have to break heavily toward "no" to overtake "yes" on the measure.
If there are as many as 2,800 ballots left to be counted, 52 percent of them being "no" votes would virtually erase the margin for "yes" and force a recount. If there are significantly fewer outstanding ballots than that, that required margin for "no" to catch up would need to be larger.
If approved, Measure 34-255 would allow the city of Tigard to support the MAX light rail line proposed in the Southwest Corridor Plan. Current plans call for that line to connect Southwest Portland to the Bridgeport Village shopping center, serving downtown Tigard either along that route or as a branch service.
The vote was required by the 2014 charter amendment, which stipulates that without voter authorization, the city must officially oppose any high-capacity transit project in Tigard.
The measure passed in 2012, meanwhile, bars the city from imposing any tax or fee to pay for light rail construction without a public vote. Cook, who chaired the "yes" campaign, has said he anticipates Metro will go to voters in 2018 for a vote on local funding.
If Measure 34-255 were to fail, however, it would probably kill plans to bring light rail to Tigard. Craig Dirksen, a Metro councilor and former Tigard mayor who supported the measure, recently suggested to The Times' news partner Oregon Public Broadcasting that planners could try to route the proposed MAX line along state highways in Tigard or bypass the city entirely, perhaps with an alignment through Lake Oswego, but doing either would carry its own set of significant hurdles.
The Tigard City Council referred the measure to the ballot in June, despite objections by light-rail skeptics to some of its wording. In recent weeks, Tigard has been virtually carpeted with dueling signs for and against Measure 34-255, with opponents adopting the slogan "No Tax for MAX."
Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Washington County's elections manager the "yes" and "no" campaign leaders.
By Mark Miller