Ballots en route to voters will determine fate of key county offices

The Malheur County Courthouse in Vale, and sites in Ontario, Nyssa and Jordan Valley serve as collection points for ballots. (The Enterprise/FILE)

More than 17,000 voters in Malheur County are getting ballots this week for the 2022 Primary Election that could change the face of county government.

Ballots go out by mail on Wednesday, April 27, and they are due back by 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 17.

At the state level, the governor’s race is grabbing most of the attention. Democrats and Republicans across the state will be deciding who they pick to run in the November general election.

Among the 15 Democratic candidates, two have drawn most of the attention: former House Speaker Tina Kotek and state Treasurer Tobias Read.

Democrats make up just 14% of the voter roster in Malheur County, according to the most recent voter registration data. They number 2,437, down by 27 from 2020.

Republicans get to pick from 19 candidates, including one who is a neighbor to Malheur County – Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten.

In Malheur County, Republicans make up 36% of the electorate, with 6,334 registered to vote. That’s up by 230 from two years ago.

Locally, only two races have competing candidates.

The election for Malheur County judge – the full-time member of the county commission – is nonpartisan so all of the county’s 17,747 voters can help decide.

The candidates are Dan Joyce, the incumbent, and Tom Vialpando, currently Vale mayor.

Voters also will decide on one Malheur County commissioner race. Competing are Don Hodge, the incumbent, and Jim Mendiola, taking his second run at a county commission seat.

They are both Republicans and no Democrat filed.

That means the county’s Republican voters alone will decide this race because Oregon has a closed primary. Only those registered to vote in a particular party can cast a ballot in a primary election involving their party.

For the county commission seat, the majority of Malheur County voters won’t have a real say. The winner of the primary will appear on the November ballot, but won’t have an opponent. Write-in votes are usually a fraction of the overall vote.

The biggest block of voters in the county – nonaffiliated voters – don’t get to vote in the Hodge-Mendiola race. The deadline to change party registration was Tuesday, April 26.

In Malheur County, nonaffiliated voters, who number 8,137, make up 46% of the electorate.

County records show 845 voters are affiliated with other parties such as Libertarian, Independent and Pacific Green.

Voters can return their ballots by mail, or by 8 p.m. on Election Day to the county clerk’s office in Vale or into ballot drop boxes that are available around the clock.

Ballot boxes are located at:

• The county courthouse in the rear parking lot.

• Ontario Community Library, 388 S.W. 2nd Ave., Ontario.

• Nyssa City Library, 319 Main St., Nyssa.

• Jordan Valley, in a lot across from the local post office.

New this year, ballots postmarked by Election Day will count. Previously, mailed ballots had to be received by the clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

A change in state law allows elections officials to count ballots they receive for up to a week after the election – but only if they are postmarked no later than Election Day.

Trotter advised against mailing on Election Day itself.

“Putting it in your mailbox at home or a blue USPS collection box on Election Day will not guarantee that day’s postmark,” she said.

Trotter said election results will be reported starting at 9 p.m. Election Day on her agency’s website.

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