Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess processes ballots on Monday, May 16 (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Marion and Polk counties in the 2022 primary election saw their highest turnout for a non-presidential primary in the past decade thanks to a last-minute flood of ballots returned.

The only primaries since 2012 with a higher ballot return rate were when presidential hopefuls were on the ballot in 2020 and 2016, according to state and local election data.

Marion County as of Friday reported 75,929 ballots had been returned, 34.82% of eligible voters. Polk County residents have returned 23,557 ballots, or 37.8% of eligible voters.

Across Oregon, 978,224 ballots have been returned as of Wednesday, or 33.2% of those eligible, state Elections Division data showed.

That was a sharp increase from the day before the election, when fewer than 20% of ballots in each county were in. 

The region also diverged from statewide votes in the Republican primary for governor, with Salem oncologist Bud Pierce receiving the most votes in Marion and Polk counties, about 25% of the total.

Pierce drew just 8.87% of Republican votes statewide, finishing only  fifth-in the contest. Drazan, who won the nomination, carried 22.8% of Oregon Republicans, 18.8% of Marion County Republicans and 18.6% of Polk County Republicans.

While local voters in the Democratic Party overwhelmingly favored Tina Kotek as the nominee, the contest was tighter than the statewide totals.

About 56.7% of Oregon Democrats selected former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and 31.4% voted for Treasurer Tobias Read as the Democratic nominee. 

Marion County Democrats went 47.4% for Kotek and 37.7% for Read, while Polk County Democrats were 49.3% for Kotek and 36.1% for Read, respectively. No other Democratic candidate earned more than 3% of the vote either statewide or locally.

(Graphics by Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Previous Marion County voter turnouts for non-presidential primaries have been 31.6% in 2018 and 29.5% in 2014. Both races included primary elections for governor, but Democrats in both elections were running incumbent candidates - Gov. Kate Brown in 2018, and Gov. John Kitzhaber in 2014.

May’s race included a wide field for both parties, with 15 Democrats and 19 Republicans appearing on the ballot.

In presidential primaries, the turnout was 39.4% in 2020, 49.2% in 2016 and 32.02% in 2012.

In Polk County, voter turnout in non-presidential primaries was previously 37% in 2018 and 33.8% in 2014. In presidential primaries, the turnout was 43.5% in 2020, 52.5% in 2016 and 36.8% in 2012.

A large number of local voters returned last-minute ballots in this year’s primary. Cole Steckley, Polk County’s chief elections clerk, said the last day of an election is often a heavy turnout.

“But it seems like at least for this election, the majority of ballots did come in on that last day. We got hit pretty hard,” he said. 

In Marion County, Clerk Bill Burgess said his office received about 26,000 ballots on election day - more than typical.

Neither county had finished counting ballots as of Friday morning, and turnout numbers are not final because ballots are still trickling in. That’s thanks to a change in Oregon law which allows ballots to be counted so long as they’re postmarked by election day and received within a week. Previously, mailed ballots had to be received by 8 p.m. election day to count.

Counties must certify election results by June 13.

Rachel Alexander contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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