Portland school board members said Tuesday they prefer waiting until June to hold an election to fill three vacancies on the board, saying the cost and low voter turnout that would likely come with an earlier special election and the logistics of campaigning on a tight timeframe pose challenges to trying to fill the seats sooner.

“My concern with holding a special election in March or April is that we will see very low turnout for these races,” school board Chair Emily Figdor said during a board workshop. “Even if there’s incredible work done to get the information on the special election out to the public, the turnout will be low and I worry about disenfranchising voters as a result.”

The board, which normally has nine elected members, is currently operating at two-thirds capacity after one member resigned in October and two others left when they were elected to the City Council. The city charter calls for the seats to be filled at the next regularly scheduled municipal or state election, which would be in June, although the council has the ability to call an earlier special election. The council is expected to discuss the vacancies at its Dec. 20 meeting.

Tuesday’s school board workshop didn’t yield any formal action, but current board members expressed a preference for a June election and Figdor said she would communicate that to Mayor Kate Snyder.

“I came into this thinking I wanted as soon as possible an earlier election because of wanting those three seats filled,” board member Aura Russell-Bedder said. “But in discussing it tonight … I think that three-month difference between March and June doesn’t feel like to me it’s worth having a process that doesn’t feel accessible and democratic. And there’s the issue of onboarding new members at that time, in the midst of budget season. It’s not a good situation.”

The council is weighing numerous considerations as it looks at when to hold an election for the three seats. The seat vacated by District 5 board member Jeff Irish would have been up for election in November 2023 while the other two seats, vacated by at-large members Anna Trevorrow and Roberto Rodriguez, would normally be up for election in November 2022. That means whoever is elected to those seats, either in June or earlier, would only be serving a term of a few months before they were up for re-election.

The city clerk has said that a special election held earlier than June likely would have small voter turnout, and she has recommended that the city use just two polling places if the council moves in that direction. There also is an estimated cost of about $53,000 associated with a special election at a date other than the June 14 regular election.

“While I do think the board does its best work when we’re nine and that’s what best represents the city, I don’t think gaining a few months for significantly more money and a less democratic process makes a lot of sense,” board member Adam Burk said. “And when I think about the candidate experience as well, it’s hard to think about having less time to get 300 signatures in the middle of winter.”

Board member Yusuf Yusuf said many people are aware of the vacancies on the board and a March election would give new members enough time to have an impact, but later said he too supports a June election after hearing from his colleagues. “I think I will go with the majority and it looks like June is the majority,” Yusuf said.

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