VOTE! The Importance of Voting: A Primer for the Oregon 2020 Primary

By Thursday Bram

Oregon’s next election is May 19. You may be tempted to ignore the election, especially considering how late Oregon’s primary falls in the season. Only six presidential primaries are scheduled after Oregon’s: Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, and the Virgin Islands.

But the May election is much more than a federal primary. The election also includes non-partisan positions and issues. Non-partisan offices can be awarded during the primary provided no one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. In that event, the top two contenders go into a runoff on the November ballot.

Those of us living in Eliot will have plenty to consider in our ballots this year. We’re electing candidates for the following positions:

· Mayor of Portland

· Portland City Commissioners

· Metro Council

· Multnomah County Commissioners

· Multnomah County District Attorney

· State Senator

· State Representative

· Judges (including for the Oregon Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and the Circuit Court)

· Oregon Secretary of State

· Oregon State Treasurer

· Oregon Attorney General

· US Senator

· US Congressional Representative

The city council referred a measure to the May ballot to renew a gas tax to fund street repair. The tax was initially approved by Portland voters in 2016. It adds 10 cents per gallon of fuel. Continuing the tax will provide the city with money to pave streets, expand Neighborhood Greenways, and add traffic signals. A full list of projects is available at

Given the many different overlapping districts, let’s review who does what. Portland uses a city-commission form of government. Residents of the city of Portland elect a mayor and a group of at-large commissioners — meaning that commissioners can be from any part of the city. Individual commissioners are responsible for certain aspects of the city’s government. Here in Portland, that means that Jo Ann Hardesty is responsible for Portland Fire & Rescue and the Bureau of Emergency Management, while Ted Wheeler is the police commissioner. Portland voters have considered updating our government structure in the past and the City Club of Portland is considering advocating for a ballot measure on the issue in November.

The Metro Council is responsible for the Oregon portion of the Portland metropolitan area. Among other responsibilities, the regional government manages waste issues (including illegal dumping), coordinating the growth of the cities and town in the Portland metropolitan area, and overseeing such civic institutions as the Oregon Convention Center, the Oregon Zoo, and Portland’s Centers for the Arts. As it happens, Metro is the only directly elected metropolitan planning organization / regional government in the United States.

The Multnomah County Commission handles managing local elections, public health, and local criminal and civil courts for Portland and some surrounding cities.

At the state level, this year’s secretary of state election is particularly important. Beverly Clarno was appointed to complete Dennis Richardson’s term, after Richardson’s death in 2016, and is not running. If that wasn’t enough to make for an exciting race, the secretary of state’s role is especially important in 2020. After the completion of the 2020 U.S. census, Oregon’s secretary of state will be a key part of the redistricting process.

This election is also the first to implement some major changes in how the city of Portland and the state of Oregon handle elections. First, and perhaps most important, voters in the state no longer need stamps to mail in ballots.

The current election cycle is the first for the city of Portland’s Open and Accountable Elections program. For local candidates willing to forego large campaign contributions (such as those from corporations, rather than individuals), the city of Portland will match donations of up to $50 six times. Many candidates for mayor and city commissioner are participating in the program. Mayoral candidates Teressa Raiford and Sarah Iannarone, for instance, are only accepting donations of $250 or less. In contrast, incumbent Ted Wheeler has announced that he will accept donations of up to $5,000 from individuals and up to $10,000 from organizations, thereby failing to qualify for the Open and Accountable Elections program.

Make sure you’re registered to vote. If you want to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries, you need to be registered as a member of the appropriate party. If you register as a member of a third party or as an independent voter, you’ll still get a ballot in May, covering non-partisan positions, as well as ballot measures. To check if you’re registered, as well as to register, visit the Secretary of State’s website at

Important Dates!

April 4 — Ballots mailed to voters currently overseas

April 20 — Ballots mailed to voters currently out of state

April 22 — Voters’ pamphlets mailed to voters in Oregon

April 28 — Deadline to register to vote or to change party affiliations

April 29 — Ballots mailed to voters in Oregon

May 11 — Don’t have your ballot yet? Contact the Board of Elections

May 14 — Last day to safely mail ballots

May 19 — Ballots are due by 8 PM