Clackamas County held an election on Tuesday night, but if you missed it, you weren’t alone. Over 80 percent of registered voters failed to file ballots before the 8 p.m. deadline. The dismal turnout barely cracked 18 percent, but this was, sadly, predictable.
It’s often the norm for May off-year elections (elections with no primary races for state or national offices). Bad as it was, Clackamas County turnout was still two points higher than statewide rates. And, the turnout for Canby School District voters was higher still, at just north of 22 percent.
The truth is that low voter turnout is a symptom of a larger lack of civic engagement. Most of the special district races on Clackamas County ballots were uncontested, and as much as I, as a journalist, am bound to beat the drum of “Exercise your right to vote!” — even I have to admit it’s hard to give people grief for not voting when there’s so little to vote on.
Even so, the May 2019 election will have consequences locally, the primary one being a shake-up to the Canby School Board. New faces were already expected, as a trio of newcomers had filed to replace incumbent Diane Downs: Dawn Depner, Art Marine and Angie Miles. After the final results were tallied late last night, Dawn emerged victorious from the tight three-way race.
She took home 38 percent of the vote, while Art and Angie claimed 36 and 26 percent, respectively. With turnout so low, the percentages don’t necessarily tell the whole story: Fewer than 100 votes separated Art and Dawn.
A financial adviser by trade, Dawn is probably best known locally as the founder of Operation Snuggle, an annual event that makes blankets for homeless kids in the Canby School District. In a phone interview Wednesday, she thanked the community for their support and her fellow candidates for their willingness to serve.
Dawn, who has also served on several other local boards, including Canby Fire, said this was the most contentious campaign she’s ever been part of — not because of her opponents, but because of questions from constituents (mainly online) that made her feel, in her words, “attacked.”
Her response, she says, was to attempt to meet face-to-face with the people criticizing her and, when this happened, it actually went really well.
Art and Angie were gracious in defeat.
“I definitely want to thank all my supporters,” Art said. “People that I never expected to be so supportive and reach out, did, and I’m really thankful. I wish there was an adequate way to thank them. I feel like whatever I do is going to be insufficient.”
“Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote in this election,” Angie said. “Your participation makes a differences to our community. Running for school board has been such an amazing process. Running alongside Art Marine and Dawn Depner has shown me how dedicated and talented our community is. Anyone willing to donate time to help others offers something valuable to our school district.
“I am excited to support Dawn Depner as she joins the board. I will continue to support our schools and be an advocate for our students. Thank you so much to all my supporters during this campaign! I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to run!”
“I’m not worried at all about Dawn winning this seat,” Art agreed. “I think she’ll do a fine job. I think the board will work out just fine.”
The most surprising outcome was Stefani Carlson’s defeat of Andrea Weber, another close race, with only 74 votes separating the two candidates. The results were surprising not just because incumbents (like Weber) typically have the advantage over newcomers, but also because Carlson wasn’t actually running.
She filed to run, but communicated to local media last month that she had changed her mind, though it was past the deadline to be removed from the ballot and voter pamphlet.
Carlson has not yet returned our requests for comment, but we have heard from several of her friends and supporters who say she plans to accept the results of the election and serve on the board.
Some of the questions Dawn alluded to concerned her positions on the rights of transgender students. It’s part of a larger discussion Canby has been having for the past several months, since a March City Council meeting in which several citizens, including Stefani Carlson, spoke against a proposed proclamation that would have recognized International Transgender Day of Visibility.