Courthouse balllotbox

The drive-up ballot box is on the south-east side of the Wallowa County courthouse.

This week those slightly oversized thick white envelopes arrived in our mailboxes: our ballots. In the midst of a pandemic, we are privileged to be able to exercise the most important of rights as Americans—the right to vote. And we are doubly fortunate because as Oregonians, we will vote by mail –as all of the nation should.

Primary elections are often considered unimportant—sort of the minor leagues of voting. And yet, they offer us the best opportunity to shape the issues and candidates –especially in locally and regionally important offices — that will face-off in November.

There are several races that especially deserve your attention and your vote: Wallowa County Sheriff, Secretary of State, State Representative, and U.S. 2nd Congressional District.

In the race for sheriff, incumbent two-term Steve Rogers has highlighted his record of building the department’s equipment and law-enforcement capacity, and knowing every inch of the landscape. Challenger Joel Fish has emphasized his long experience in community policing and community relations, and candidate George Kohlhepp’s background includes a lifelong connection with the county and concerns about drugs and drug enforcement. All are qualified to lead. But you must decide the direction.

The secretary of state’s slot is critical because in the event of the governor’s death, incapacity, or resignation, the person in that office becomes the governor. We saw this in 2015 when John Kitzhaber resigned and Kate Brown stepped up to the plate.

Republican Candidate Dave Stauffer holds a law degree (J.D.) from Lewis and Clark, an MBA from the University of Portland, and is working as an environmental engineer. His rival, Kim Thatcher, has represented District 13 (Newburg, Sherwood) in the Oregon Senate since 2015. Thatcher, 55, served in the Legislature as a representative from 2000-2014. She has run a road construction business and brings legislative experience as well.

The Democratic primary for secretary of state pits Jamie McLeod Skinner, a natural resources attorney with experience in county and municipal government, who hails from rural Terrebonne and has family in Harney County, against Portland- based Mark Hass, who would bring 20 years of experience in the Oregon legislature along with leadership in budgets, fiscal policy, and funding education. The third Democratic candidate, Shemia Fagen, grew up in rural Dufur, holds a law degree (J.D.) from Lewis and Clark, presently represents Portland-area Senate District 24 and previously represented the area in the Oregon House of Representatives.

For the Oregon House of Representatives, Republicans have only one candidate, Bobby Levy, who runs a sheep ranch near Echo. Democrats will choose between Barbara Wright, who has been pushing a debunked conspiracy theory online claiming the COVID-19 virus is a man-made “bio weapon” intentionally released into the public, and thinks there is no point in staying home of socially isolating to prevent the spread of the disease. Her more rational opponent, Nolan Bylenga of Pendleton, graduated from Pendleton High School, went to the University of Florida on a track scholarship, and transferred to Portland State, where he will graduate in June. He supports the second amendment, and favors lowering taxes on small businesses.

For state senate district 29, Republicans have a choice of incumbent Bill Hansell or upstart challenger and Pendleton carpenter Garison Lee Alger. Only one Democratic candidate is on the ballot: Mildred O’Callaghan.

So get out your number 2 pencil, or, if you are confident about filling in the right oval on that ballot the first time, a blue or black pen. Inspect your ballot for mistakes—did you fill in the correct circle? If there are errors in your markings, call county election officials to swap your erroneous ballot for a new one. (541 426-4543 ext 1158.) Then put your ballot in the secrecy envelope. Put that in the buff-colored envelope and SIGN THE BACK OF IT. Signatures will be compared with voter registration signature on file to verify that this is your ballot. If not signed, or if your signature varies from the one on file, your vote will not count, although in reality you may receive a phone call from the county clerk to verify or appear and sign, and your ballot may be counted later. If you mail your ballot, be SURE to mail it early enough, or take it to a local drop box, located in the drive-through to the southeast of the county courthouse in Enterprise and at city halls in Joseph and Wallowa. Ballots MUST be in the hands of the County Clerk or deposited in one of those ballot boxes by 8:00 p.m. on May 19 to be counted. There is no fudging on this deadline.

In the May primary of 2018, 60.7 % of Wallowa County’s registered voters cast ballots. Only Grant County (65.8%) and Gilliam Count (60.8%) were higher. (Multnomah County was a dismal 30.7%.) With a sheriff’s contest and important statewide races on the ballot, we should be able to vie for the state lead. Stay Safe. And be American: Vote!

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