Maughan declares victory in Corvallis mayor’s race
More than three weeks after Election Day, Corvallis residents have finally learned who their next mayor is going to be: Charles Maughan.
For the first time, Corvallis used Ranked Choice Voting to choose their next mayor. It's a method of voting that can only be used if there are at least three candidates on the ballot, which there were.
If no single candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the initial count, then the candidate with the least support gets removed from consideration. Then, elections officials consider the second choice candidate on the ballots of people who voted for the person who was eliminated.
In the initial round of results, Maughan enjoyed a substantial lead over second-place finisher Andrew Struthers. Meanwhile, Roen Hogg finished a distant third, meaning his votes tossed out and his supporter's second-choice votes were redistributed. In this case, the majority of Hogg's supporters chose Struthers are their second-choice candidate.
That meant that when the second-round of tabulations were announced this week, Maughan's lead over Struthers shrank to just 34 votes.
“It shows the importance of getting out there and having every individual conversation, knocking on every single door, attending every event, because it was a very close race,” said Maughan.
The margin was very close, but not close enough to trigger an automatic recount, according to the Benton County Elections office's interpretation of Oregon election law.
Oregon Revised Statue 258.280 states that an automatic recount occurs when "the difference in the number of votes cast for a (leading) candidate ... and the votes cast for the closest apparently defeated opponent is not more than one-fifth of one percent of the total votes for both candidates."
With Maughan receiving 9,890 votes and Struthers receiving 9,856 votes, the total number of votes cast for the two candidates equals 19,746. That means that the "one-fifth of one percent" margin to trigger an automatic recount would be 39 votes, more than the 34 votes that separates the two candidates.
But elections officials in Benton County said their interpretation of the law is that the automatic recount threshold is based on the number of votes received by the two leading candidates in the first round, before Ranked Choice tabulations occur. That means that the difference to trigger an automatic recount would have been just 29 votes.
Ranked Choice Voting has only been used in a handful of races in Oregon in the modern era, and this appears to be the first case of an outcome that's close to triggering an automatic recount. For instance, in Corvallis' ninth ward, which featured three candidates on the ballot, the final margin of victory for winning candidate Tony Cadena was 350 votes, well outside the margin for an automatic recount.
The voting method has also been used in a handful of county-wide races in Benton County, with none resulting in an especially close margin of victory.
A spokesperson for the Oregon Secretary of State referred questions about Benton County's administration of Ranked Choice voting laws back to the county, saying state elections officials "have not issued an interpretation" about how the state's automatic recount law would be affected by Ranked Choice Voting.
Struthers, the candidate who narrowly lost the race for Corvallis mayor, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Maughan, meanwhile, said he's been congratulated by current city officials for his apparent victory, and said he plans to focus on affordable housing issues and climate change as Corvallis mayor. He’ll replace Biff Traber, who decided not to seek a third term.
And, Maughan added, if it did come down to a recount, he has every expectation that the results would not change.
"Benton County, looking back in the past, they're very accurate when it comes to their ballot process," he said. "So even if there was a recount, I don't see that number changing by more than one or two votes. I have faith in our election process."