Breaking down the ballot

SAUCI and PSU professor explain Oregon’s 2020 ballot

Ballots are due on Nov. 3, and many people have not voted yet. On Tuesday, Students Addressing Urban & Community Issues (SAUCI) hosted a “Ballot Breakdown” event to help explain the ballot, with Dr. Jack Miller, a political science professor at Portland State, leading the discussion.


Miller explained that Oregon, like most states, has a multiple executive system. So while there is no election for Governor—not until 2022—there are elections for Oregon’s secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general. This is different from the federal government, which has a single executive system. With a single executive system, the voters vote for the president, who then appoints people to positions such as secretary of state. 


Since there are many positions up for election this year, it is up to the voters to scrutinize each candidate. 


“When you’re analyzing various officer holders, it’s a good idea to know what that office holder is going to do so that you can decide how you’re going to pick them,” Miller said. 


Positions like attorney general are policymaking positions, so it is good to look at party affiliation and policies to see if your choice of candidate matches your views. Positions like secretary of state and state treasurer are administrators, so while their political views are less important, their administrative skills and experience are more important. 


In addition to statewide positions, there are also several seats for the Oregon State Legislature up for election. As members of the legislature, they will evaluate and vote for statewide laws. Information about each of the candidates can be found in the voter pamphlet, the websites of individual candidates, online debates or their experience with relevant issues. 


Closer to home, Portland uses a commissioner system of government, and is the only city with a population over 100,000 to do so. The city council is composed of commissioners who will set policies and run the different governmental bureaus, making the council both the legislative and the executive branch of Portland’s government—leaving voters to consider which candidates will be the best at both.


The mayor is in charge of picking which commissioners run which bureau, so even if a certain candidate is elected, it is not certain what bureau or bureaus they will end up running. 


The ballot does not just consist of candidates—there are also state and local measures of the back of the ballot. While voters will choose between yes and no, a bill being rejected does not mean the bill is gone for good; the bills are often revised, and voted on again. 


The voter pamphlet has information on the measures you can vote for. You can also look at candidates and organizations that favor or oppose the measures, or at arguments that are included in the ballot. 


Many measures regard issues that are hotly debated. According to Miller, “Controversial issues and spending issues tend to end up getting referred [to the ballot].” 


Ballots will look different from person, depending on the races being run in your area. However, there is one major thing they all have in common: all ballots are due on Nov. 3, before 8:00 p.m.