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Finish line has arrived in an Oregon primary election – and year – like no other

Slugfest in GOP 2nd District race to succeed Greg Walden draws top attention

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Oregonians stopped "going to the polls," by and large, decades ago, as voters agreed to become one of the first states to embrace and go all-in on vote-by mail.

So it's become a routine - but even parts of that routine, like so many others, has been up-ended in an election season like no other, leading up to Tuesday's Oregon primary election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Granted, there wasn't a need to line up six feet apart at polling places, like the grocery stores are doing. So there are benefits to voting by mail amid all those concerns.

But it also had county clerks spreading out an often-fewer group of ballot-openers and signature-checkers, to keep physical distancing -- which could delay results, compared to a typical election night.

To track Tuesday night’s election results, visit https://ktvz.com/news/election/2020/05/12/latest-oregon-election-results/.

The Elections Division site we link to as all the federal, statewide and local results, also making it easy to track the races you're interested in including combined tallies for agencies and districts that include more than one county. (Shortly after 8, it was slowing down, very much, probably under the strain of all those computers checking at once.)

(Deschutes County also has its own page, at https://ktvz.com/news/election/2020/05/19/latest-deschutes-county-election-results/ -- a good one to track if you're focused on Deschutes County races or want to see which set of results has the latest numbers.)

On the candidates' side, the pandemic has meant an odd spring of no shaking hands or kissing babies - not even rooms and luncheons full of voters to woo. Just a lot of Zoom online virtual forums -- and of course, lots of TV ads, especially the often-negative big-spending slugfest on the Republican side among the dozen-plus seeking to succeed retiring 2nd District Rep. Greg Walden of Hood River.

Walden, the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, is not running for a 12th term. Republicans running for the seat being vacated by Walden include Bend resident Knute Buehler, a former member of the Legislature who unsuccessfully ran for Oregon governor in 2018; former state Sen. Cliff Bentz of Ontario; Tumalo businessman Jimmy Crumpacker and former state legislator Jason Atkinson.

In April, Deschutes County added drive-by ballot drop boxes at Pine Nursery Park and on the west side of the Deschutes Services Building at 1300 NW Wall Street to make voting safer and more efficient amid the coronavirus outbreak. No more friendly folks hand-taking your ballot at a drive-up window, as in many past elections.

County Clerk Nancy Blankenship told NewsChannel 21 Tuesday 34% of registered voters returned their ballots by Monday, compared to 38% in 2016. Blankenship said ballot returns have been running between 2% and 4% behind 2016.

According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, 35.1% of Oregon’s 2.85 million registered voters had returned their ballots for the state primaries as of Tuesday morning. And 52,125 out of 142,222 registered voters in Deschutes County, or 36.7%, had returned their ballots by Tuesday morning.

The recommended deadline to return ballots by mail was Tuesday, May 12, as postmarks don't count, but last-minute voters could still send in their ballots using the drive-by drop off boxes.

J.C. Riggs, a sixth-generation Oregonian, said he is glad to have the option of dropping off his ballot on Election Day.

"You don't have to fear and stay home because there's fresh air and it feels beautiful out here," Riggs said. "We really need to get out and vote. It helps make change."

Riggs said he waited until the last day to drop off his ballot because he wanted to hear more in-depth discussion and statements regarding the proposed measures and the candidates running for office.

“Usually in Oregon, we have the benefit to drop them off on the last day, and so I wanted to see what everyone would talk about,” Riggs said. “When I first got here, there wasn’t a long line, but there’s finally a line. That makes me happy.”

Winners of the parties' primary election will go on to run in the general election on Nov. 3.

One polling firm, Victory Insights, projected Bentz to upset his big-money opponents and win the GOP 2nd District primary with about a third of the total votes, followed by political newcomer Crumpacker at about 22 percent and Buehler with 19 percent.

"Crumpacker has been labeled a carpetbagger for his recent relocation to the district, and Buehler’s pro-choice stance has prompted outside spending from Club for Growth and Right to Life in an attempt to counteract his $1.3M+ in campaign funds," the pollsters said.

"Bentz, a fiery state politician made famous for leading the Republican walkout from the Oregon Senate over a carbon cap-and-trade bill, was able to achieve victory by performing incredibly well amongst rural voters in Eastern Oregon," they stated. "As a longtime state representative and senator, his constituencies encompassed much of rural Oregon, which proved vital for his path to victory.”

Four Democrats are seeking the seat in the largely conservative district. Heidi Briones, Suzanne Bonamici, Ricky Barajas and Amanda Siebe.

There is no drama in the primary race for the White House. President Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee and Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Drawing little attention so far is that Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, is running for re-election, with four Republicans -- Paul Romero Jr., Robert Schwartz, Joe Rae Perkins and John Verbeek -- vying to take him on in the fall. In early returns, Perkins was leading with nearly 49 percent of the vote to 30 percent for Romero and about 11 percent for Schwartz and 8 percent for Verbeek.

Of more interest are the party races for Oregon secretary of state — the second-highest statewide office, after the governor.

Democrats running for secretary of state include state Sens. Shemia Fagan and Mark Hass, and Terrebonne resident Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who ran unsuccessfully against Walden in 2018 but drew attention for a stronger showing than previous Democrat challengers.

State Sen. Kim Thatcher and David Stauffer, who has worked as a securities analyst for the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, are the only GOP candidates.

The election is taking place during the coronavirus outbreak, and officials are taking precautions with ballot handling. Election workers have been receiving instructions on handling ballots along with protective equipment from the Oregon National Guard and others.

One local race is garnering national attention. Voters in metropolitan Portland were asked to approve taxes on personal income and business profits that would raise $2.5 billion over a decade to fight homelessness .

The ballot measure was planned before the pandemic reduced the U.S. economy to tatters. How voters in the liberal city react amid the pandemic will be instructive for other West Coast cities struggling to address burgeoning homeless populations as other sources of revenue dry up.

Central Oregon / Deschutes County / Government-politics / News / Oregon-Northwest

Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

Rhea Panela

Rhea Panela is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Rhea here.

Comments

1 Comment

  1. there wasn’t a need to line up six feet apart – The most accurate statement for quite a while on the media – even OSHA says 3′ is plenty good enough.

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