UPDATE: Richardson, Chandragiri, Hudson ahead in Salem-Keizer board races

This article was updated Wednesday, May 17 at 9:15 a.m. following additional ballot returns.

A longtime school district administrator and a state child support worker are poised to join the Salem-Keizer School Board based on preliminary election results.

Cynthia Richardson and Krissy Hudson were ahead in their races to represent northeast Salem and Keizer on the body overseeing Oregon’s second-largest school district. 

Satya Chandragiri, the sole incumbent seeking re-election, was ahead by just 418 votes Wednesday morning out of 36,940 ballots counted so far. Chandragiri, a psychiatrist, is running against Willamette University professor Kelley Strawn.

Strawn led by about 400 votes in an initial ballot count Tuesday night.

Candidates backed by progressive and liberal groups hold all four seats not up for election, and would pick up a fifth seat with Richardson’s election. Chandragiri and Hudson were backed by conservative groups.

Richardson received 51.3% of votes counted as of 9 a.m. Wednesday in Marion and Polk counties, and was ahead of opponent Casity Troutt by 1,042 votes. The two women were running to represent zone 2, which includes northeast Salem and McKay High School.

Hudson had the widest margin of victory in the zone 6 race representing Keizer. She had 55.4% of votes cast against Larry Scruggs, a retired university administrator and former substitute teacher.

The results include voters in both Marion and Polk counties, with the bulk coming from Marion County. Ballots collected from drop boxes on Election Day or that arrive in the mail up to a week after are not reflected in the results yet, and it can be days or weeks before a winner is clear.

Though candidates represent a specific zone, Salem-Keizer board races are at-large, meaning all voters who live within the school district can vote in all races.

Marion County had about 2,000 accepted ballots remaining to process as of early Wednesday morning, county Clerk Bill Burgess said, and about 500 ballots that will be returned to voters because of missing or mismatched signatures. Voters have until June 6 to resolve signature issues and have their ballots count.

Polk County’s initial count included 13,600 ballots.

Both counties will continue to count ballots received in the mail over the next week. Marion and Polk county ballots that voters returned to other counties’ dropboxes will also be exchanged and counted later this week.

Board positions are nonpartisan on the ballot, but in recent elections candidates have been organized and backed largely along partisan lines.

Richardson and Strawn were backed by Community for Salem-Keizer Schools, a coalition of liberal groups, including the political action committees for the Salem-Keizer Education Association, the local teachers union and farmworker union PCUN.

The same group backed a successful slate of liberal candidates in the 2021 school board election, with voters electing Osvaldo Avila, Ashley Carson Cottingham, Karina Guzmán Ortiz and Maria Hinojos Pressey.

Marion + Polk First, a conservative group who also backed a slate of candidates in 2021, and Oregon Right to Life supported Troutt, Chandragiri and Hudson.

State law prohibits school board directors from being employed by the district they oversee.

Richardson is currently the district’s director of equity, access and advancement, but is set to retire June 30 from that position. New board directors take office July 1 and serve a four-year term.

Marty Heyen, who currently represents zone 2, opted not to run for a third term. Robert Salazar, who was appointed to the zone 6 seat last November after Marion County Commissioner Danielle Bethell resigned from the seat, did not run.

Results also showed two Polk County public safety measures passing with a wide margin of victory. The countywide public safety levy, Measure 27-140, had 57.6% yes votes. The Polk County Fire District 1 levy had 66.8% of votes in favor.

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

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter. Click I want to subscribe!

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.