March 13, 2018

County Elections Director Tim Scott (left) and Precinct Committeeperson candidate Venn Sage Wylde

Multnomah County has for the first time accepted a candidate filing for Precinct Committeeperson from a resident who identifies as neither male nor female, but as “nonbinary.’’

Under the precinct committeeperson statute (ORS 248.015), major political parties will elect "a committeeperson of each sex for every 500 electors." The state form provided for filing for the position has boxes for “Precinct Committeeman” and “Precinct Committeewoman.” On March 5, County Elections Director Tim Scott accepted a filing form in which a candidate had added a third box: "Precinct Committeeperson." The decision means an additional column will be added to the ballot for precinct committeeperson in May.

The County Elections Director notified both major political parties and the Secretary of State’s Office of the decision. Officials have long recognized the language needs to be updated.

“We all are working together to get this statute changed,’’ Scott said. “But we all believe this is the right thing to do today.’’

A precinct committeeperson represents voters in their neighborhood registered with their major political party, and can be either elected or appointed. When the statute was first written, it provided for a single “committeeman” from each precinct. It had evolved to its present form, providing for one ”committeeperson of each sex” for every 500 voters, by the 1970s. Since mid-2016, Oregon has officially recognized three genders — male, female, and nonbinary.

Venn Sage Wylde, who uses the pronouns they/them, has twice served as chair of the Multnomah County Democratic Party and held a precinct committee position for 15 years. On March 1, Wylde received a Circuit Court judgment for a change of name and sex and to affirm their nonbinary gender identity. Wylde immediately updated their voter registration and filed for office.

Wylde said that checking either existing box - Precinct Committeeman or Precinct Committeewoman - would be false and subject to incurring a penalty or fine."

“It's important for me when I sign a form to be clear about who I am,’’ Wylde said. “And I hope that the historic decision by the Multnomah County Elections Division to accept that will make it easier for other people to breathe,  to claim who they are, and to show up in the world in ways that give them life.”

“This change is long overdue,’’ said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “It’s unconscionable that a box on a form can keep people who identify as nonbinary, transgender or intersex from fully taking part in our political process.’’