May 1, 2024 - Politics

What to know about Portland's May 21 primary election

Illustration of a mailbox covered in "I Voted" stickers. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Your ballot for the May 21 primary election is on its way, if it hasn't already arrived in your mailbox.

Why it matters: The primary decides what ballot measures get the green light and which candidates will go head-to-head this November.

The intrigue: All city office races (including for mayor and city council) will be on the November ballot when ranked-choice voting is rolled out in Portland for the first time.

  • Instead of voting for just one candidate, voters will have the option of ranking six of their preferred picks for a single office. Voter education events will be held throughout the summer to provide information on the new government structure.

Registering to vote

You can check whether you're registered to vote and your party affiliation at oregonvotes.gov/myvote.

  • If you're not registered to vote yet, it's too late to receive a ballot for the May primary, as Oregon requires new registrants to sign up 21 days before an election. But you can still register ahead of November's election.
  • Voters who do not have a party affiliation won't be able to vote in Democratic or Republican primaries. This includes presidential, U.S. congressional, Oregon House and Senate races and other statewide offices like secretary of state, treasurer or district attorney.

Returning your ballot

Oregon is a vote-by-mail state and no stamp is required to send your ballot back to be counted.

  • Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day or placed in an official dropbox by 8pm on May 21 to be counted.

Here's a rundown of the races and measures we're watching in the primary:

Multnomah County District Attorney

Nathan Vasquez is facing off against incumbent Mike Schmidt, who won in a landslide in 2020 on reformist principles like ending mass incarceration.

  • Vasquez, a senior district attorney in Schmidt's office, routinely challenged his boss' policies on the campaign trail and, in doing so, won endorsements from several law enforcement unions.
  • Schmidt has long been the target of advocacy group People for Portland's billboards criticizing his performance as a prosecutor — though he has staunchly defended his record on crime.

Congressional District 3

Rep. Earl Blumenauer is retiring after 30 years in office, leaving his seat in Congress up for grabs.

  • Democratic State Rep. Maxine Dexter, Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales and former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal are frontrunners, though four others are also running.
  • Three candidates are running in the Republican primary, though the district is considered one of the safest Democratic seats in the state.

Secretary of State

LaVonne Griffin-Valade took over the office when the last elected secretary of state, Shemia Fagan, resigned under pressure for taking outside cannabis consulting work.

  • In the Democratic primary, state Sen. James Manning and current Treasurer Tobias Read are both running on a platform of restoring trust in the office.
  • State Sen. Dennis Linthicum, who is barred from reelection after participating in last year's walkout, will be on the Republican ticket.

Measures

Portland's 10-cent vehicle gas tax, which funds street repairs and safety improvement projects, is up for renewal. If voters approve it, the tax is expected to raise $70.5 million over the next four years.

  • Voters will also be asked to renew a levy that pays for one-fifth of the teaching positions within the Portland Public Schools district.
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