City News

Council candidate Matthews skipped voting in local elections for years

Shane Matthews, a Realtor running for a seat on the Salem City Council, has rarely voted in local races that determine the city’s elected leadership.

Since registering to vote in Marion County in 2010, Matthews, 37, has voted in seven of 28 elections for which he received a ballot, according to records from the county elections office. He cast ballots during general elections but not in the primaries that typically determine local representation like school boards and city leaders. 

He also voted in two special elections: one in 2011 and the November 2023 special election on Salem’s  payroll tax.

“I wish I had some great answer that made me sound awesome, but the truth is I just didn’t vote and I wish I would have,” he said when contacted by Salem Reporter about his voting record. “I didn’t realize at the time how important it was.”

Salem Reporter reviewed voter registration and ballot return records for all 2024 city council and mayoral candidates. Those records are public and show which elections a voter turned in a ballot for, but not how they voted.

Records show that another council candidate, Celine Coleman, 27, did not vote on the city’s payroll tax issue, she said due to an untimely spill that wrecked her ballot on Election Day.

Other candidates have generally been regular voters.

Matthews is running for the Ward 3 seat, which includes the Faye Wright neighborhood, Fairview Park and Southeast Mill Creek. His opponent is Nathan Soltz, a legislative chief of staff and member of the Morningside Neighborhood Association.

Matthews said he wasn’t very engaged in politics until his mail kept getting stolen, which made him realize that the police department was understaffed and couldn’t deal with such issues. The payroll tax, which would have taxed wages earned in the city above minimum wage to fund city services, was also a catalyst for him. It was rejected by voters in November.

“It wasn’t until I looked around and felt like things were so bad that they couldn’t be ignored anymore, that’s when I got involved,” he said. “Use me as a cautionary tale for anyone that’s kind of focused on working and living life and raising a family, that these local elections are super important. And I should have been paying better attention.”

Council races are typically settled in May. If one candidate receives more than half of the votes cast, only that candidate is listed on the November ballot. By not voting during any primaries, Matthews did not give input on the races that decided who would sit on the Salem City Council.

He said that, being registered as an unaffiliated voter, he had thought that primaries were partisan elections. He wasn’t aware until recently that council seats and other nonpartisan local offices were decided in May.

“I think that’s a lot of the community,” he said, and said he recently explained it to a coworker who had thought the same thing. “That’s a real misconception.”

“I would tell anyone that hasn’t voted, or historically doesn’t, hopefully you can get engaged faster than I did,” he said. 

Coleman is running to represent Ward 1, north central and downtown Salem, against planning commissioner Paul Tigan.

Records show she has voted in two of three elections since registering in Marion County in 2022, after moving to Salem from Phoenix. She did not cast a ballot during the payroll tax special election last November.

Her campaign website describes the tax as “a failure before residents voted it down.” Mailings to voters in support of Coleman’s campaign, paid for by the Oregon REALTORS Political Action Committee, focus on her opposition to the tax.

Coleman said that she had filled out a ballot, voting no, and was on her way to the ballot box at Roth’s Fresh Market on Southeast Commercial to submit it when she accidentally spilled an open water bottle all over it.

“I just went a few blocks, and went to grab my ballot. And it was mushy cereal, is the best way to describe it,” she said.

Coleman said that was on Election Day, and she turned around and went back home.

Tigan, her opponent, was a leader of the “Save Salem Campaign” which advocated for the tax to fund city services.

Coleman has said she wanted to see more input from the community, especially state workers.

Coleman said she didn’t try to get a replacement ballot because she didn’t have time between work and the voting deadline.

“I voted no, that’s what was on the ballot. You wouldn’t have been able to tell even if I brought that to Roth’s. It probably would have messed up the whole ballot box,” she said. “It’s not really exciting, it’s pretty embarrassing, but that’s what happened.”

If someone’s ballot gets damaged within four days of the election, including on Election Day, Marion County Elections Manager Brian Van Bergen recommends coming in-person to their office at 555 Court St N.E., Suite 2130 for a replacement.

If the ballot gets damaged earlier, the office can mail a new one if someone asks in person, by calling 503-588-5041 or emailing [email protected]. The elections office will deactivate the damaged ballot in their ballot tracking system and activate the replacement ballot for the voter to prevent anyone from voting twice.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.