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'Contagious' vote helped GMO-free, library measures

A high voter turnout in Ashland and rural Jackson County helped turn the tide in favor of the GMO-free initiative as well as the library district in the May primary.

According to preliminary results from the Jackson County Elections Center, Ashland posted a 70 percent turnout compared to Medford's 51 percent.

Measure 15-119, which bans GMO crops in the county, passed with 66 percent of the vote. The library district passed with 54 percent, even though voters had shown a distaste in previous elections for raising property taxes to pay for library operations.

Another surprising turn came when Sheriff Mike Winters garnered just 30 percent of the vote for his re-election, compared to challenger Corey Falls, deputy chief of the Ashland Police Department, who received 46 percent. Winters and Falls will face off again in the November election.

Political strategists will pore over the results once they are certified next week, looking for precinct-by-precinct trends that shed light on the outcomes.

"I think the GMO issue created a movement, and that movement was contagious at a time when people were looking for good news," said Cathy Shaw, a political strategist who managed the library district campaign and aided in other successful campaigns this election.

Based on preliminary results, this election activated voters in some communities while not attracting voters in others.

Eagle Point had a 34 percent turnout, but rural areas surrounding it posted 57 percent. Rural Ashland had a 70 percent turnout, and rural Medford came in at 56 percent. Jacksonville and rural areas surrounding the city both had a 65 percent turnout. Applegate had an almost 70 percent turnout.

Based on the unofficial results, more than 55 percent of voters cast their ballots, but more than 63 percent of Democrats voted compared to 59 percent of Republicans. Non-partisan voters and those affiliated with other parties had a 43 percent participation.

Supporters of both the GMO-free initiative in Jackson County as well as the library district conducted coordinated campaign strategies, said Shaw, who also helped in the campaigns for incumbent Circuit Judge Adam Peterson and Corey Falls.

She said specific targeting of voters in those campaigns helped create a winning strategy.

Shaw, who has written a book on winning local elections, said she won't perform a post-mortem on the primary until after it is certified sometime next week.

"Until I have other numbers, this is not enough information to give a cogent analysis," she said.

Chris Hardy, an Ashland farmer and chief petitioner for measure 15-119, said the opposition campaign by the chemical companies supporting GMO products actually helped his cause.

"If you had half your wits about you, you could see through all the bull they put out," he said.

Hardy said a lot of campaign effort went into creating a buzz that got people excited about sticking up for something other than a multinational company.

The campaign also turned on the idea of supporting local farmers who contribute to the local economy, he said.

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said the GMO-free initiative attracted the most attention this election, followed by the libraries.

She said an agricultural district also may have received additional support because of the turnout for the GMO initiative.

Walker said the number of undervotes, or ballots for which a voter doesn't make a selection on a candidate or issue, is a good indicator in an election.

The GMO initiative had 1,143 undervotes, compared to 7,243 in the sheriff's race, based on preliminary results. This disparity could mean voters are more familiar with the GMO debate and less familiar with the sheriff candidates, Walker said.

The library district had 2,218 undervotes and the extension service 2,600.

Walker said the certified results next week should shed a better light on the voting patterns of local residents, but she already sees some trends.

"It looks like the rural communities turned out," she said. "People in the Ashland area turned out huge."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

A packed room of supporters of the measure to ban genetically modified plants in Jackson County erupted in cheers during last month's election. Mail Tribune / file photo - file photo