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Low Turnout Looms As Major Factor In This Election

With just a day left to mail in ballots, Oregon’s high-priced referral campaigns are looking at very low voter turnout.

Who is actually voting follows a familiar pattern – rural voters are much more likely to send in ballots than people from urban and suburban areas. If that trend holds up, it could favor opponents of legislative referral, Measure 49.

The referral limits development allowed under property compensation initiative, Measure 37. It changes the process for reviewing claims, and addresses the measure's legal uncertainties. As Rob Manning reports, activists on both sides of Measure 49 are trying to make the best of an unenthusiastic electorate.

Jeremiah Baumann with the “Yes on 49” campaign says the last ten days have been all about fighting voter apathy.

Jeremiah Baumann: “Voter turnout is a very big concern right now. There are significantly fewer people voting than voted in the last special election that was conducted statewide.”

And in the waning days of the campaign to defeat Measure 49, Oregonians in Action director, David Hunnicutt sees some good news in the turnout numbers. Hunnicutt says the stronger rural turnout means more people voting who see the need for protecting property compensation initiative, Measure 37.

David Hunnicutt: “Normally, you’d favor a low turnout, especially if it’s disproportionate to some of the rural counties because, you know, in land use, it’s been the people in the rural areas that have really borne the brunt of the overregulation at our state level, so they have far more experience with trying to navigate their way through our unique and Byzantine land use process than people in urban areas.”

The “Yes” campaign warns that unplanned subdivisions could spread across Washington County farmland, for instance, if Measure 49 fails. But fewer than one in four Washington County voters has cast ballots, so far. In Multnomah County the numbers are  only slightly higher. That could be trouble for the “Yes” campaign, since Democrats wrote the referral – and the Portland area is heavily Democratic. “Yes on 49” spokesman, Jeremiah Baumann, says getting out voters in those two counties is key.

Jeremiah Baumann: “Certainly, I think, people in Multnomah and Washington counties, those are the population centers for the state, in a lot of ways, and they’re people who care about their environment, about the landscape, so we want them to get out and vote.”

Of course, there are far more urban and suburban voters - but there are counties with tens of thousands of mostly rural voters, which could help tip the balance in a close race.  But even if turnout is trending somewhat against the measure, David Hunnicutt with the “No” campaign says he may be fighting a losing battle. Hunnicutt is also concerned that last-minute voters wherever they are, may do less research and instead take short cuts, like the advice from this "Yes on 49" ad.

Ad: “There’s one sure way to know what Measure 49 will do: read the ballot language. A yes vote modifies Measure 37….”

Hunnicutt tried to block the ballot language in court, but a federal judge rejected the effort.

David Hunnicutt: “Because of the way that the legislature on a straight party-line vote, cooked up the ballot title, eliminating the Attorney General drafting, and the public comment, and the Supreme Court review, and essentially came up with a statement in favor of the measure, rather than a neutral statement, because of that, it’s a hard hill to try and climb.”

Hunnicutt says poll results show strong support of that ballot language – and that could be more important in the end, than where voters live. Jeremiah Baumann with the “Yes” campaign says Hunnicutt is posturing.

Jeremiah Baumann: “The opponents of Measure 49 honestly are just trying to spin election results. They’re worried they might lose, so they’re trying to spin it now, so they can claim later that somehow voters were tricked. I think Oregon voters are smarter than that.”

Friday is the last day that the Oregon Secretary of State’s office says people can safely mail in ballots, and have them count. After that, you 'll have to hand in completed ballots to county elections’ offices, or other approved drop sites, before Tuesday night at 8.

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