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Oregon Independent Primary Triggers Manual Recount

The May 15 primary election delivered a few surprises that may take days (or weeks) to untangle.

Posted: May 16, 2018 12:03 PM

SALEM, Ore. — While election results are still considered unofficial, most races in Southern Oregon and throughout the state delivered clear front-runners before 9 p.m. on election night. However, there were a few notable exceptions.

The nonpartisan race for County Commissioner (Position 2) in Lake County came down to difference of less than one percent, or about 14 votes, between current front-runner Bruce Webbon and close-second James Williams.

Even closer is the race between the Republican candidates for State Representative, District 2. At the most recent count, incumbent Dallas L. Heard leads challenger Gary Leif by .19 percent—or 13 votes out of 6,886 counted.

CLICK HERE for our complete article on all election results, local and state.

While the Democratic and Republican primaries for Oregon's gubernatorial race produced clear winners—Kate Brown and Knute Buehler, respectively—Oregon's Independent Party is facing an unusual set of circumstances to resolve their primary.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Patrick Starnes received 26.4 percent of the vote, making him the technical front-runner. However, almost 55 percent of Independent votes went to write-in candidates, introducing the potential that Starnes might be outgunned after all.

Oregon election law includes a procedure for write-in candidates that mandates a manual recount (and recording) of those votes if they happen to equal or exceed the number of votes for a single candidate. Since write-in votes unnumbered votes for Starnes, the recount here is inevitable.

Perhaps more surprising, however, is that the Independent Party of Oregon (IPO) believes those votes could go to Buehler, Brown, or another major party candidate. Although Democrats and Republicans had closed primaries, it is possible for Independent voters (not registered with either major party) to have written in those candidates.

And, IPO said in a statement, both Brown and Buehler did major outreach to Independent voters before the primary.

"If Brown or Buehler gets more than 50 percent of the write-in vote, our party is going to have a very close primary race for governor this year," said IPO co-chair, Rob Harris.

Under Oregon law, IPO says, a major party candidate who also wins the Independent nomination via write-in can list their 'cross-nomination' status on the general election ballot. However, the IPO has internal rules against such an outcome—that have never been tested in court, they said.

"Past results suggest how Buehler, Brown and other candidates performed in this race will be a bellwether for November," Harris said. "If Starnes wins, he could have a huge impact on the general election running on a platform of campaign finance reform. As third party elections go in this country, it's pretty high stakes race with a cliffhanger finish."

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