A stack of counted and signed ballot envelopes at the Marion County Elections Office on Tuesday, May 19. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

An unofficial final vote tally in the Salem-Keizer School Board races on Wednesday showed a liberal sweep of the board, with candidates backed by the Community for Salem-Keizer Schools political action committee holding on to narrow leads in two races that had been too close to call.

The contest for zone 3, however, was so close it will head for an automatic recount under Oregon law.

Ashley Carson Cottingham is just 73 votes ahead of her opponent, Linda Farrington, in that race for a board seat representing south Salem, out of 43,697 ballots cast.

Carson Cottingham is deputy director of the Oregon Employment Department’s paid family and medical leave division and ran unsuccessfully for Marion County Commissioner as a Democrat in 2020. Farrington is a retired nurse and former school district budget advisory committee member.

State law requires an automatic recount when the number of votes separating two candidates is less than 0.2% of the votes cast for both. The margin in the race was 0.17%.

"I'm very pleased with the results, but since it's such a close race we'll now wait for the recount to occur by the professionals' in our County Clerks' offices," Carson Cottingham said in a statement. "I'm very grateful to all of our supporters and am very much looking forward to serving my community in this manner should my lead remain after the recount."

Farrington did not immediately returned a call seeking comment.

(Graphic by Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess said a recount will take place after election results are certified, which will happen by Monday, June 7. He expected the recount would take one or two days.

While it’s always possible a recount could change the result in the race, Burgess said such events are rare.

The last recount he could recall was a statewide recount of a 2014 ballot initiative about labeling genetically modified food. Marion County recounted about 95,000 ballots and the final results changed by just a few votes, he said.

“I don’t expect a recount to change the margin much at all, but we could be surprised,” he said. “It’s certainly worth doing it to leave no stone unturned.”

In zone 5, representing southeast Salem, Karina Guzmán Ortiz held onto a lead over Mike Slagle by 285 votes, out of 43,821 ballots cast. Incumbent Jesse Lippold Peone, who was the only sitting board member seeking re-election, got just 7.3% of the vote and conceded the race the day after the election.

The May 18 election pitted two politically opposed slates of candidates against each other for four seats on the board. Liberal and progressive groups lined up behind Osvaldo Avila, who won the zone 1 race, as well as Carson Cottingham, Guzmán Ortiz and María Hinojos Pressey, who won the zone 7 race.

Running against them were Kari Zohner, Farrington, Slagle and Liam Collins, championed by conservative Marion + Polk First political action committee. Lippold Peone and two other candidates without political action committee support also ran, with none receiving a significant share of votes.

Wednesday’s results are the unofficial final ballot totals for both Marion and Polk counties. The several hundred votes added since the last count on May 20 reflect voters who corrected missing or mismatched signatures on their ballots.

Turnout in the race was 26.6% in Marion County, far higher than the 2019 turnout of 19%. Polk County's turnout was 24.8%.

This article was updated with a statement from Ashley Carson Cottingham.

Correction: This article misstated the district committee Linda Farrington served on. It was the budget advisory committee, not the budget committee. Salem Reporter regrets the error.

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

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