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A new Oregon law allows mail-in votes to be counted if they arrive at election offices a week after the May 17 primary.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon's vote-by-mail ballots are opened and scanned at local elections offices.Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's political career began in earnest when she won the Democratic primary for a House seat by seven votes.

That's a landslide compared to Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond. He won his 2018 GOP primary by just two votes.

Closed 2022 primaries exclude more than 1 million non-affiliated voters from choosing the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor, U.S. Senate, congress and the Legislature.

Several races feature large fields of candidates — 34 total in the race for governor alone.

Put together, the possibility of election squeakers is high.

Add in a new twist for 2022: The May 17 election night doesn't end at 8 p.m. as per usual. A change approved by the Legislature last year requires any ballot with a postmark of May 17 or before to be counted through May 24.

The potential for some seesawing returns and delayed final results is high.

"The nightmare scenario is any race that is closer than 1.5% to 2% on election night," said Jim Moore, outreach director for Tom McCall Center for Civic Engagement at Pacific University.

With potential recounts, the final results could be delayed for a month or more. Final recount demands must be filed with the Secretary of State by June 21 and an Election Day Report is due from the office on July 15.

Moore said studies of Washington state's postmark law show relatively little wobble between the primary day and the postmark deadline.

But the 2022 primary is Oregon's first experience with a system that will mean a more drawn-out official end to the election.

Adding to worries is the balloting comes as former President Donald Trump uses the 2022 election campaigns to repeat his debunked claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by President Joe Biden. Any snag will be cast in harsh light.

"We know this is big with Republicans," Moore said. "We'll see if there are complaints in their primary. Maybe the Republicans will say 'wait for everything to come in.' But if a candidate says 'this looks like it could be stolen' and wants an independent audit, then it could get interesting."

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan has mounted a major public information campaign of television, radio and digital ads to explain the rule changes to Oregon voters in hopes of heading off complaints and misunderstandings.

"The new law could mean that very close contests will not be decided on election night," Fagan said in a statement last week. "Even if the results come in a little slower, they will be accurate."

The Secretary of State's tally of ballots on Tuesday, May 10, showed 288,337 have been returned out of 2,952,330 mailed to voters.

That is 9.2% of all ballots sent to Oregon voters. The lowest return percentage of Oregon's 36 counties is Deschutes County at 7.7%. Multnomah County, which includes Portland, has returned just 8.8% of the 557,702 ballots sent to residents.

Several less populated counties have returned twice that number, with Grant County leading the count at 20.3% of ballots returned.

But the percentage of total ballots returned is misleading. The voting is likely much farther along than the Secretary of State's numbers suggest.

Non-presidential primary elections have low turnout — 33.91% in 2018. Adjusted for an increase in voters in 2022, the same turnout would put ballot returns at just under 28.8%.

The final voting tally could rise or fall on a number of factors, driving higher numbers of ballots but also a more fragmented tally.

An open governor's office, redistricting and a new congressional seat has uncorked a torrent of suppressed political ambition.

With Gov. Kate Brown unable to seek re-election because of term limits, there is no incumbent on the ballot for the first time since 2010. Even that year, former Gov. John Kitzhaber was seeking (and would eventually win) a return to office. The last ballot without an incumbent — or Kitzhaber — was in 2002.

This year the race for governor has drawn 19 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

One each will remain after the primary.

Former Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, is mounting a well-financed "unaffiliated" bid that would require submitting about 24,000 valid signatures to the Secretary of State by the end of August to be placed on the November ballot.

Redistricting approved last year for the 2022 election has moved congressional and legislative district lines. A high-speed game of political musical chairs played out since September involving retirements, candidates changing races, and head-on collisions between officeholders seeking new jobs.

The races for Congress have attracted a bumper crop of candidates.

Voters will cast ballots for six congressional seats, one more than the last election, awarded to Oregon due to its rapid population growth over the previous decade.

There are two exceedingly rare open seats in the U.S. House.

The new 6th Congressional District seat centered around Salem has attracted nine Democrats and seven Republicans.

The 4th Congressional District seat is open due to the retirement of U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield. After DeFazio announced late last year that he wouldn't seek another term, he endorsed Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, who dropped her bid for re-election to run for the seat. But seven other Democrats filed to run. Alex Skarlatos of Roseburg is the only Republican in the race.

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, is running in a largely redrawn district that now stretches from Portland, over the Cascades, to Bend and parts of Deschutes County.

Schrader is being challenged in the Democratic primary by attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Crooked River Ranch. The race has drawn multiple Republican candidates as well.

The Oregon Capital Bureau is a news partner of the Pamplin Media Group.


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