Screenshot from mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarones virtual election night party.
Screenshot from mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone's virtual election night party.

Oregon’s primary election night delivered some historic wins for the Portland region—and a whole lot of question marks around still-undecided races.

By midnight Tuesday, the county elections office had tallied ballots from a total of 43 percent of all registered Multnomah County voters. But the elections office’s slow stream of results Tuesday night left many races undecided during a decidedly unusual election cycle.

At the state level, a close race for the Oregon Secretary of State among Democrats left Senator Mark Hass in the lead over fellow Senator Shemia Fagan. State Representative Rob Nosse, who represents Southeast Portland, has been reelected, and two doctors have won the Democrats’ vote for two Southwest Portland House districts —Maxine Dexter in House District 33 and Lisa Reynolds in House District 36. Khahn Pham, an organizer with OPAL Environmental Justice and longtime advocate of Portland’s immigrant community, handily won the Democrats’ vote for House District 46 in deep Southeast Portland.

Here’s where local races stand as of midnight Tuesday:

Wheeler inches towards a victory

Mayor Ted Wheeler ended Tuesday night with a 51 percent lead over challenger Sarah Iannarone in his push for reelection. It’s still unknown whether or not the race will move into a runoff election. Wheeler will need to hold onto more than 50 percent of all votes to avoid a runoff, and without the final election results in, it’s still a little too close to call. If he wins either election, Wheeler will be the first Portland mayor since the 2004 reelection of former Mayor Vera Katz that has remained in office for more than one term.

Wheeler’s campaign declined to comment on the election results Tuesday night.

Iannarone, who is trailing Wheeler with 22 percent of the vote, remained hopeful throughout the evening.

"We got work to do in terms of what's going to happen on the other side of this,” said Iannarone, suggesting that she’d qualify for a November runoff. “We're going to go from a huge field [of candidates] to two."

Iannarone ran against Wheeler in 2016, and only received 11 percent of the vote. She credits her sizable increase in support to Portland’s Open and Accountable Elections program, a publicly-funded elections program that is being used for the first time during this campaign.

Portland City Council results still up in the air

Carmen Rubio has won the Portland City Council seat being vacated by Commissioner Amanda Fritz—an expected, but historic victory. Rubio, currently the director of Latino Network, will be Portland’s first Latina city commissioner when she takes office in January 2021.

“It feels especially meaningful,” Rubio said about the historic nature of her win. “I think about my grandparents, who came to this country for a better life for their children… For me, this just feels full circle.”

In a distant second to Rubio was Candace Avalos, a first-time candidate and student government advisor at Portland State University. In her election night Zoom party, Avalos’ mother said she felt like her daughter had “already won” by having her voice included in the political conversation. Avalos nodded in agreement.

The other two City Council races were considerably less clear at the end of the evening. The top three contenders for City Commissioner, Position 4 remain neck-and-neck, with incumbent Commissioner Chloe Eudaly gathering 30 percent of the vote and former Portland mayor Sam Adams and former city staffer Mingus Mapps trailing closely behind with 28.22 percent and 28.72 percent, respectively.

Shortly after the initial results rolled in, Mapps told the Mercury that he’s feeling optimistic about his chances in moving into a runoff election.

“I feel great,” said Mapps. “This is the race that’s going to keep people up at night, including myself.”

Mapps, a political newcomer, says he's particularly proud to be neck and neck with a former mayor. Mapps said that the considerable support of his campaign proves that Portlanders want change and that they’re looking for a city commissioner who can "bring everyone to the table." Mapps has criticized Eudaly’s leadership style for being too divisive, particularly in discussions around the future of Portland’s neighborhood associations.

It’s still unclear who, exactly, will be meeting in the November runoff for the council seat. The Adams campaign is waiting to comment on the results until Wednesday morning. Eudaly’s campaign told the Mercury at 11:20 that “Commissioner Eudaly is waiting on additional returns to make a statement about the results of today's election.”

The results for City Commissioner, Position 2 are just as opaque. At the end of the evening, it’s not obvious which of the five top candidates will move on to an inevitable runoff election, scheduled for August 11. This race is to finish the incomplete term of Commissioner Nick Fish, who died in January. The term ends in 2022. As of midnight Tuesday, former Multnomah County commissioner (and former 2018 candidate for Portland City Council) Loretta Smith is leading the race with 19 percent of the vote. She’s trailed by All Hands Raised director Dan Ryan with 16 percent, Renew Oregon director Tera Hurst at 13 percent, and a tie between Metro Councilor Sam Chase and environmental advocate Julia DeGraw at 12 percent.

At 11:40 pm, Ryan said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the results and praised the city’s Open and Accountable Elections program for allowing so many different candidates into a packed race. “I’m proud of our city for that,” he told the Mercury.

Two ballot spending measures approved

Portland-area voters approved two spending measures Tuesday night—one to improve city streets, and one to invest in homeless services.

The Portland 10-cents-per-gallon gas tax, first passed back in 2016, has raised $76 million over the last four years to fund things like filling potholes, making crosswalks safer, and building new sidewalks. Portlanders approved a renewal of this tax by a margin of three-to-one.

Meanwhile, a somewhat hastily crafted ballot measure from Metro Council was also seemingly approved with 57 percent of the vote. The measure is expected to provide $250 million for all the support services people need to transition from being houseless to housed—things like on-site addiction recovery help, child care, job preparedness training, and case workers to connect them to other public services.

The measure will raise funds by taxing high-income earners and large corporations, and its opponents rejected it on the basis that Oregon doesn’t need any more taxes. Metro voters seem to disagree with that premise.

Schmidt wins DA race on reform platform

Mike Schmidt won the race for Multnomah County District Attorney handily, with about 75 percent of the vote according to early numbers. This was the first time the office has been truly contested in decades, and Schmidt, director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, was running against Assistant US Attorney Ethan Knight.

As we noted in our endorsement, Schmidt ran on a reform-oriented platform that included eliminating cash bail, eschewing harsh mandatory minimum sentences, and increasing data transparency.

“I know we can do things better,” Schmidt said in a Facebook live video after early results rolled in. “We can work on decreasing disparity, we can try to make our jails and our prisons not be homeless shelters [and] not be our biggest drug treatment facilities.”

Schmidt joins a wave of reform-focused DAs to be elected throughout the country in the last couple years. Time will tell whether or not Multnomah County’s tight criminal justice budget—not to mention the hurdles of COVID-19—will foil his ambitious plans.

Key Metro race goes to a runoff

Of the two Portland Metro races on the ballot this year, one had a very predictable outcome—while the other is still being figured out.

District 6 incumbent Bob Stacey bested his challenger with about 70 percent of the vote. The jam-packed race for District 5, however, will likely go down to a runoff election in November between the top two candidates, as nobody is poised to gain over 50 percent of the vote.

Former state legislator Mary Nolan is all but guaranteed a spot in the runoff, with 36 percent of the vote according to Tuesday night’s returns.

“I’m honored and refreshed to see that the voters seem to care about the same things I do… [and] believe experience matters,” Nolan told the Mercury earlier Tuesday evening.

But Nolan was cautious to claim victory, noting that "nothing's done until they finish counting the votes."

Joining Nolan in the runoff will be either transportation advocate and Portland Planning Commission member Chris Smith, or activist and Q Center Director Cameron Whitten. As of Tuesday evening, they were within two percentage points of each other.