Democratic Secretary of State race remains tight between Fagan, Hass

As of Thursday afternoon, Fagan remains in the lead but the race is still too close to call.

PORTLAND, Ore. — An extremely tight race is unfolding for the Democratic nominee for Oregon’s Secretary of State, as Shemia Fagan and Mark Hass exchange leads with more votes counted in the days since the election.

Hass, a state senator who penned the Student Success Act, had a commanding lead Tuesday night, and the Oregonian/OregonLive called the race for him that evening. 

As more votes were counted Wednesday, it became clear Fagan was gaining on Hass, and the Oregonian/OregonLive recalled its announcement, issuing a formal apology online.

Fagan, a civil rights attorney and also an Oregon state senator, was instead declared the winner by the news organization.

But the rollercoaster didn’t stop there. An apparent glitch in reporting for Yamhill County votes led the Secretary of State’s office to publish numbers showing Hass with a commanding 4-point lead.

The glitch was fixed by 10 a.m., and showed Fagan in the lead by about 2,000 votes.

KGW political analyst Len Bergstein expects we should know the clear winner by the end of the week.

The race was highly competitive between Fagan, Hass and Jamie McLeod-Skinner, the third candidate who was defeated. It turned into a “soap opera”, Bergstein says, partly due to the Yamhill County miscount.

“Besides the soap opera and drama part of it there’s a certain irony in the fact that this is the secretary of state race,” Bergstein said, “So the election officer charged with basically the integrity of the vote is the race in which there is a screw up in integrity of the vote.”

Not only was the race tight but it occurred during an unprecedented election with the coronavirus distracting voters. Yet, Oregon voters had the benefit of voting by mail with postage already paid for this year.

Hass jumped into the lead in the beginning because his campaign started early and targeted people more likely to vote early. Bergstein says Fagan’s later lead was spurred by her late-powered campaign.

“A lot of the early voting showed [Hass] in the lead because he had run that kind of campaign. Shemia Fagan was financed heavily by public employees unions and ran a very heavy advertising campaign toward the end and kind of caught up to Mark in terms of momentum of the race. Votes reflected that as they were tallied, the later votes coming in,” Bergstein said. 

“The surge at the end is more indicative of how much of an organized campaign you’ve got, how much people are pounding on people’s doors or phones saying, ‘Turn that ballot in’.”

Political pundits expect “ballot chasing” may happen in this race; essentially, post-election day, counties – and even campaign workers – track down and contact people whose ballots were set aside because they weren’t signed properly. They aim to give them another chance to cast their votes.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, an automatic recount is triggered when the difference in votes is one fifth of one percent.

“That recount would be paid for by the government – depending on jurisdiction. This would be determined after certification on June 18. Someone may request a recount regardless of difference in numbers but they would have to pay for it,” according to a spokesperson.

The results as of noon Thursday:

  • Hass: 196,904 votes, or 35.65% 
  • Fagan: 198,817 votes, or 36%
  • Jamie McLeod-Skinner: 152,268 votes, or 27.57%

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