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Ballots in the mail soon for May 16 special district election — but fewer than 1/3 of voters may fill them out

(Update: Adding video, comments from county clerk, residents)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Oregon's upcoming May 16 Special District Election is all about local decision-makers and money requests, without the statewide and national races that can make for a more contentious campaign climate -- but also fuel ballot returns.

A host of school, park, community college and library district board positions are on the ballots in Deschutes County and elsewhere. Voters' Pamphlets have already been distributed and the ballots are coming soon.

In Deschutes County, the measures include a five-year operating levy for hiring fire and emergency medical staff in La Pine, and a five-year option levy in Bend.

Voters can expect to see their ballots here over the next few days, maybe even as early as this weekend.

Every two years, Oregonians have the opportunity to enact changes in county government, an opportunity many voters under-utilize.

"It's one of those elections that really affects our day-to-day life," said Deschutes County Clerk Steve Dennison. "It's special districts. So it's school districts, library districts and Park and Rec -- these districts that voters are paying paying taxes for here locally."

Of the approximately 157,000 registered voters in Deschutes County, only 30 percent are expected to send back their ballots.

"I always hope for a higher turnout than we tend to have," Dennison said. "But that turnout percentage is pretty true to the election type."

Less media coverage and advertising means fewer people are aware of local elections.

"You usually see something on TV, or you just see more signs up," said Courtney Stevens. "And I've hardly seen any kind of coverage on that part."

Much of the awareness for local elections comes from campaign signs. But when they are put up incorrectly, such as in a highway right of way, they're removed. The Oregon Department of Transportation doesn't allow political signs in areas where they can distract from public safety.

Despite challenges with voter awareness, there are systems in place to make it easier to vote in Oregon.

As Kevin Wilson put it: "I like living in Oregon, where we can vote by mail. That's the best."

"I think you need to vote locally more importantly than nationally," Courtney said. "Because it starts with local. It starts with community."

Article Topic Follows: Election

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Liam Gibler


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