There are still about 27 percent of the ballots left to be counted in the Nov. 5 general election, but it appears a write-in candidate may have won the Camas mayoral race.
As of Tuesday evening’s unofficial results, with 73 percent of votes counted, the write-in candidates had 2,753 votes to Mayor Shannon Turk’s 1,898 votes.
No one knows for sure if either of the two write-in candidates, longtime Camas City Council member Melissa Smith and political newcomer Barry McDonnell, have enough votes to beat Turk.
“My understanding is that they count me and all write-in candidates are grouped together,” Turk said Tuesday night. “Then … sometime in the upcoming days, they go through (the write-in votes) to see (how many votes Smith and McDonnell received.)”
The Camas mayoral race was expected to be a walk in the park this election cycle. Turk, a former city councilor appointed to the mayoral seat left vacant in 2018 after then-Mayor Scott Higgins unexpectedly resigned, was running unopposed throughout the primary and much of the general election seasons.
And then October happened.
That’s when two write-in candidates threw their hats into the ring.
Smith said Tuesday she was told the elections office will need to go back and look at the write-in votes to see who is the actual winner of the race.
“I’m not going to sleep tonight,” Smith said Tuesday.
Turk said voters’ enthusiasm for the write-in candidates did not surprise her, especially considering that so many Camas voters shot down the community-aquatics center bond — something Turk had backed.
“There was a very strong opinion on the pool. Clearly, that carried into the individual races as well,” Turk said.
If she loses the race, Turk said she will have strong emotions, but won’t let it feel like an ending.
“I got into this to give back to the community,” she said Tuesday. “There are a lot of ways to give back to the community, though, and I will continue to do that.”
McDonnell had not returned the Post-Record’s calls in time for this newspaper’s press deadlines.
Turk, who has worked for local governments since 1995, was appointed to her first city council stint in July 2011 and had nearly a year of mayoral experience under her belt when the write-in campaigns got underway, took the opposition in stride.
“Neither time did it surprise me,” Turk said of the two write-in candidates. “People feel passionate about things that are on the ballot, so it doesn’t surprise me that people who were feeling frustrated or angry would want to (launch a write-in campaign).”
And even though she had discussed the issue with Smith before the actual candidate filing deadline in May and wasn’t expecting the city councilwoman to run against her in the mayoral race, Turk told the Post-Record she understood Smith’s write-in campaign.
“It’s something that she wants to do,” Turk said of Smith.
McDonnell, a father of four who moved to Camas in 2016, said that by the time he felt called to local politics, it was far too late to enter the Camas mayoral race as anything other than a write-in candidate.
“It was really in September of this year that I decided (to run),” McDonnell recently told the Post-Record.
The Camas City Council’s mid-July decision to put a community-aquatics center bond proposition on the Nov. 5 general election ballot was the issue that made McDonnell first take note of his new city’s locally elected officials.
“I was really frustrated that there weren’t other candidates other than the appointed mayor, McDonnell said. “Towards the end of September, I decided, ‘Maybe it’s me.’ And, on Oct. 2, I made the decision (to run as a write-in mayoral candidate).”
McDonnell launched a GoFundMe campaign that raised close to $5,000 and was active in trying to get his name out to Camas voters: sending mailers, putting out yard signs, answering questions on social media sites like NextDoor, establishing a website and even starting a podcast to talk about himself and his family, which includes wife, Anastasia, and the couple’s four children, ages 2 to 13.
Both McDonnell and Smith said they saw a disconnect between the mayor and citizens.
“People love Camas the way that it is,” McDonnell told the Post-Record in October. “From my standpoint, it doesn’t feel like a citizen-driven future. I would like to change that so we can have more dialogue when putting future plans together.”
Likewise, Smith, a Camas native, said she would focus on listening to citizens’ issues and dealing with the city’s daily operations.
“I love this town. It’s my hometown,” Smith told the Post-Record in October. “I am a genuine and authentic person. I would be a person (constituents) could approach and know that I will work to help with their issues.”
Turk said she would have been happy to discuss some of the issues brought up by write-in candidates in more detail, if only she’d been given more notice.
“I just wish (the write-in candidates) had filed in May because then we would have had plenty of time to focus on all of these things,” Turk said.
Turk added that she did not view the write-in campaigns as “wake up calls,” but as just another part of her learning process as the city’s mayor.
“It’s easy to focus on the bad and say, ‘That’s where we’re at as a community,'” Turk told the Post-Record. “But we have so many good things going on right now. We’re master-planning for the fire department and making a comprehensive budget where we look at everything … and we have legacy lands that we’ve purchased north of (Lacamas Lake) that will be saved for generations. That is a fantastically good thing the city has done. One of many good things. And I know it’s easy to see the negatives, but there are positives, too.”