The thing about democracy is that it is constantly in motion; not just every four years during a November presidential election, and not even just during the big midterms in other even-numbered years. That’s why Portland-area voters can expect to soon find yet another mail-in ballot in their mailbox—it might even be sitting in yours right now—and while there’s nothing too flashy on that ballot, it’s still important that you vote. In fact, it’s arguably even more important that you vote in this little rinky-dink (no offense) off-year, off-season election, because they tend to get much lower turnout than the big-name races attract.

The Moth Mainstage Returns to Portland on December 14.
Literary Arts presents The Moth: Portland Mainstage. True Stories, told live. Held at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Okay, with that little civics lesson out of the way, here’s the Mercury’s quick and easy guide to voting in the May 18, 2021 special election.

Who’s running for office this time?

The big event for the May election is school board races. Depending on where you live in Multnomah County, you’ll have the chance to vote on a candidate to represent you on the Portland Public Schools board, or one of the other local district boards like David Douglas, Parkrose, Beaverton, Riverdale, Corbett, Gresham-Barlow, et cetera. All Multnomah County residents will also have the opportunity to vote for candidates for the Multnomah Education Service District board—a kind of super-school-board that coordinates between the different school districts in the county.

In addition to the K-12 districts, you’ll also be asked to vote on candidates for either the Portland Community College (PCC) board or the Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) board, depending on where you live.

Finally, there are a handful of races for fire and water districts, for those who live on the outskirts of the county.

The Mercury isn’t making any school board or fire and water district endorsements—not because those races aren’t important, but simply because we lack the time and resources to make sure our endorsements would be airtight. One of the most direct ways to figure out who you’re voting for is to consult your voters’ guide. You should get one in the mail, but here’s a digital version just in case.

Here are a few questions I ask myself when figuring out who to vote for, especially in these smaller races when I might not be familiar with the candidates: Who are the candidates endorsed by? Do their voters’ statements seem clear, organized, and like they generally have their shit together, or do they read more like a vendetta-slash-manifesto? Does their experience show that they’ve paid their dues leading up to this position? And how could my vote best be used to increase diversity and representation in local government?

What about ballot measures?

If you remember the November 2020 election, you might remember that for Portland voters, that ballot was a measure-palooza. We had big money asks and huge policy shifts from the city, county, Metro, and the state on the ballot, and it was a little overwhelming.

Fortunately, Portland voters will have just one ballot measure to consider when voting in the May election, and it’s a relatively non-controversial one: The renewal of a five-year funding levy for the Oregon Historical Society, which operates a museum and library focused on the state’s history. If this measure passes, homeowners in Multnomah County will continue to pay five cents for every $1,000 worth of their home’s assessed value. In other words, the owner of a $400,000 home will pay $20 a year to support the society. This measure isn’t creating any new fees; rather, it’s an extension of an existing levy.

Like I already said, the Mercury isn’t making any endorsements this time around. But if you bumped into me, Blair, on the street, and you asked me how you should vote on this ballot measure—well, I wouldn’t tell you to vote “no,” okay?

Oh, and if you live in Scappoose, you’ll also be asked to vote on a levy for the local fire district. This isn’t the Scappoose Mercury, so I’ll let upstanding Scappoosians figure that one out on their own.

Okay, so how do I vote?

If you’re new to Oregon, or recently turned 18, you may not have voted-by-mail before. Fortunately, if you get sent a ballot for this election, that means you’ve already properly registered, which is half the battle.

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The rest couldn’t be simpler: Fill out your ballot, put it in the pre-addressed envelope it came with, sign the envelope, and either place that ballot in the mail or bring it to a ballot drop-box. You don’t even need a stamp! If you want to mail your ballot, you’ll need to do so by May 11. Otherwise, you have until 8 pm on May 18 to return your ballot to a drop box. You can find a drop box close to you here.

Still need help voting? This handy guide we wrote up last year has plenty of relevant info, such as how to vote if you’re unhoused or are temporarily misplaced from your usual address; what voting rights people with felonies have; and how to vote with a disability.

If you have any other questions about the logistics of voting, call the Oregon Secretary of State's office at 1-866-673-VOTE. Good luck, godspeed, and go vote!