Two Salem-Keizer school board races too close to call, two are settled in latest ballot count

(Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

A near-final round of ballot counting Thursday afternoon in Marion County appears to have sealed victories for two liberal candidates for the Salem-Keizer School Board, and the passage of a fire levy for Marion County Fire District 1.

But the outcome of contests for zones 3 and 5 likely won’t be clear until early June, the deadline for voters to correct signature problems on their ballots.

On election night, Osvaldo Avila, Ashley Carson Cottingham, Karina Guzmán Ortiz and María Hinojos Pressey were ahead in their respective races. All four were backed by the liberal Community for Salem-Keizer Schools political action committee.

Opponents Kari Zohner, Linda Farrington, Mike Slagle and Liam Collins, championed by conservative Marion + Polk First political action committee, trailed them.

Three candidates who ran without support from political action committees were far behind.

Marion County counted about 12,000 ballots Wednesday and Thursday that were received late election night, posting the results just before 5 p.m. Thursday and narrowing the margins in the closest races.

After Thursday’s count, Carson Cottingham was ahead of Farrington by just 86 votes out of a total of 43,129 cast in the zone 3 race, which represents south Salem. Those totals include both Marion and Polk county ballots.

In zone 5, Guzmán Ortiz led Slagle by 279 votes out of a total of 43,246 cast, with incumbent Jesse Lippold Peone in a distant third place. (Lippold Peone conceded the race Wednesday morning.)

Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess said his office rejected 364 ballots due to mismatched signatures, and an additional 148 because people forgot to sign their ballots. Voters have two weeks to correct those errors and will receive a letter with instructions for doing so.

Burgess estimates about two in three county ballots came from voters within the school district boundaries, so the makeup of those correcting signature issues could determine the race.

Burgess said Marion County would next post results June 2 because voters have until June 1 to fix those issues.

Polk County, which has far fewer voters, had about 100 ballots with signature issues to correct as of Thursday afternoon, as well as a few hundred remaining to count. Not all those voters live within school district boundaries.

The elections office won’t post updated results until after the deadline to correct signature problems, a clerk said.

In the four-way race for zone 1, representing west Salem, Avila was leading Zohner by 1,807 votes, well outside the margin for signature fixes to turn the race.

In zone 7, Hinojos Pressey was ahead of Collins by 1,099 votes.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a Marion County Fire District 1 operations levy, with 64% of tallied votes in favor.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.