May 2020 Election

Ballots await sorting at the Umatilla County Elections office ahead of the ballot deadline on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

Dan Dorran and HollyJo Beers have had a month to evaluate how Umatilla County voted in the May 19 primary, sending the two of them into a runoff for the only opening on the three-person board of commissioners in November.

While neither were necessarily surprised by how the voting broke down throughout the county, both are preparing for a November general election that is primed for a dramatic increase in voter turnout.

“Looking at the total number of people who voted, I’m not sure any of us really drove people to the ballot box,” Dorran said of the May 19 primary.

Dorran, a Hermiston resident and longtime member of the Umatilla County Fair Board, finished first in May after receiving 5,585 total votes, which amounted to about 34% of the 16,505 votes cast in the county.

HollyJo Beers, a Milton-Freewater resident and leader of the Umatilla County Three Percenters, came in second with 4,025 votes, which was just over 24% of the vote.

However, Umatilla County’s voter turnout of less than 37% in May is destined to increase in November when Americans as a whole are statistically more likely to submit a ballot with the White House up for grabs. In 2016, for reference, Umatilla County’s voter turnout increased from around 45% and 15,000 total votes cast in the primaries to 70% and around 28,000 total votes cast.

While the demographics will undoubtedly change in November, an analysis of May 19 voting data from the county’s 46 precincts, which group voters according to their place of residence, shows an east-west divide among Umatilla County voters.

Dorran received roughly 42.5% of votes cast in communities west of Pendleton compared to Beers’ total of about 17%. And that difference showed up most glaringly inside and outside of Hermiston, where Dorran received more than 1,400 more votes than Beers and won nearly 40% of the vote to Beers’ 15%.

“I really thought they would split the vote over there more than they did,” Beers said, adding that Dorran and the other primary challengers all live in Hermiston and how she’ll be focusing her efforts there moving forward. “Dan’s been over there an awfully long time, but I do want to go over there and give them a choice.”

Though he already seems to have the support of many Hermiston voters, Dorran said his campaign wants to reach more of its residents who didn’t cast a ballot at all in May and will stress the importance of keeping a voice from the county’s west side on the board.

“As you put down your priorities, I think we want to make sure the folks in Hermiston understand that I am a west-end candidate,” he said.

Outgoing Commissioner Bill Elfering is a Hermiston resident, while Commissioner George Murdock lives in Pendleton and Commissioner John Shafer is the former mayor of Athena.

Beers added that she specifically is hoping to reach out to the county’s Latino and Hispanic voters, many of whom live in Hermiston.

“I think that they’re a vital part of Umatilla County,” she said. “I really need to touch base with them and let them know what I’m about, and find out their needs and what they’d like to see happen.”

In a much tighter competition, Beers edged Dorran by just about 1.5% in Pendleton and communities on the east side of the county, with 2,908 votes to Dorran’s 2,744.

Precinct data shows that Beers’ advantage mostly showed through in Milton-Freewater, where she lives now, and Pilot Rock, where she grew up. Beers finished with about 31.5% of the vote in Milton-Freewater compared with about 23% for Dorran, while she got 40.5% of the vote in Pilot Rock to Dorran’s 24%.

Voters were mostly split between the two candidates in Pendleton, which cast the most ballots of any single city in the county and where Dorran ultimately won with 30% of the vote to 27% for Beers. The city’s individual precincts were closely contested, with Dorran winning six and Beers four. The difference, ultimately, amounted to less than 150 votes between the two candidates.

“We need to get on the streets of Pendleton and answer the questions door to door and face to face,” Dorran said. “The follow-ups that we have had from folks are, ‘Hey, we just don’t know you, Dan.’”

Dorran plans in-person events like town halls beginning in Hermiston sometime in July, he said, and will also be holding events throughout the summer in Helix, Pendleton, Pilot Rock and Milton-Freewater.

Otherwise, he’s primarily been planning out the logistics for the next stretch of the campaign and said he’s continuing to educate and familiarize himself with the county and its communities by attending public meetings throughout the area.

Beers, on the other hand, has been active by speaking at the “Hermiston Freedom Rally” at the end of May and said she’s working with those organizers to plan an event to support law enforcement in response to the Black Lives Matter protest movement. She’s also held signature-signing events for the latest initiative to recall Gov. Kate Brown and said she’s hoping to hold more in-person events and go knocking door to door to meet voters.

Roughly 1,500 votes and 10% of the total ballots cast separated Dorran and Beers in the primary. But with the field whittled down to two, which leaves the nearly 7,000 votes cast between the three other primary candidates up for grabs, and the voter turnout expected to increase thanks to the presidential election, both are gearing up for a competitive race through the summer and into fall.

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