Anytime voters go the polls these days, LGBTQ2SIA+ equality is on the ballot. One can’t look at the news without finding headlines about conservative state legislators banning trans girls from playing sports or prohibiting teachers from discussing topics like queer history or racial justice.
While we all know how important it is to elect pro-equality candidates to the state legislature and the governor’s office, some lesser-known positions are nearly as consequential, yet can go overlooked. Here’s a guide to some elected offices to keep in mind when completing your ballot this election year.
BOLI is short for the Bureau of Labor and Industries. As one might guess from that description, this arm of the government regulates businesses and ensures workers’ rights. What you might not suspect, though, is that the BOLI commissioner also oversees the state’s civil rights division. That means discrimination claims made in Oregon, whether the offense occurs at work, in a housing dispute, or at public locations like restaurants or stores, are handled and decided by BOLI.
For this reason, it’s crucial to support and elect a BOLI commissioner who believes in LGBTQ2SIA+ rights and racial justice. Oregon’s BOLI commissioners have a tradition of standing against queer discrimination in our state. In 2013, the bureau fined the owner of the Portsmouth Club $400,000 for attempting to ban the Rose City T-Girls, a group of trans women, from frequenting his bar. In 2015, BOLI fined the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple because of their sexual orientation.
These protections against LGBTQ2SIA+ discrimination are enforced because voters elected candidates to this office who believed discrimination was wrong. We’ll be electing a new BOLI Commissioner this November. We’re excited about several candidates participating in the primary and will be making our endorsement once the final candidates are decided.
County clerks oversee elections where they serve. In this time, when unscrupulous candidates promote wholly unfounded theories of “voter fraud” – theories often based on racist lies involving immigrants – it’s important to elect clerks who believe in equity. County clerks make decisions every day that signal to voters who is included in our democracy. That means deciding which languages voting materials are translated into, in what neighborhoods voter outreach efforts are conducted, and which people and organizations the county partners with to carry out those efforts.
The county clerk’s office also officiates wedding–that is, if the clerk chooses to. In Clackamas County the clerk’s office ceased officiating weddings once same-sex weddings became legal. The timing makes it pretty evident that the clerk doesn’t want to officiate a gay wedding. Catherine McMullen, a candidate for Clackamas County Clerk, has pledged to renew the practice of officiating weddings – queer and straight – if elected. She’s said she wants the clerk’s office to feel welcoming to all county residents, whether it’s a gay couple seeking to be married, a trans person updating a passport, or a BIPOC resident accessing public records. We encourage you to decide which candidate for clerk champions equity in your county.
Your ballot might contain not one, but two auditor positions: One for the city you live in, and one for your county. Whether at the city or county level, an auditor’s job is essential to good government. Auditors conduct thorough reviews of different public departments and programs to make sure they’re fair, effective, and law-abiding. They then release public reports, highlighting the program’s strengths and room for improvement, complete with specific recommendations.
By auditing programs like houseless services, the criminal court system, civil rights offices and more, auditors hold our elected and non-elected government officials accountable, and make sure that all of a city or county’s residents are being served by their government. LGBTQ2SIA+ people, and particularly queer and trans people of color, are often excluded or mistreated by government services—but an auditor with inclusive values and strong skills can help mitigate these issues.
Make sure you do your research on city and county auditor candidates before casting your ballot, as this seemingly “boring” position might be the most important vote you cast in 2022.
Secretary of State
Oregon’s executive branch is unique in that it doesn’t contain a Lieutenant Governor to serve as a second in command. That means that, should the governor resign or pass away, it’s the secretary of state who assumes the top position. We saw this first-hand in 2015, when then-Governor John Kitzhaber left office and Kate Brown, who’d been secretary of state, became Oregon’s first out LGBTQ2SIA+ chief executive.
This quirk of our system underscores just how important it is to elect someone to this position who champions pro-equality values. And the day-to-day work carried out in this office is just as vital. It’s the secretary of state’s responsibility to oversee Oregon’s elections. As we witness conservative-dominated states across the country take brazen measures to restrict access to voting for BIPOC voters, and adopt voter ID rules that make it more difficult for trans people to access ballots, it’s clear that this office plays a vital role in ensuring equity when it comes to participating in democracy.
As Oregonians we can be justly proud of having made voting accessible and easy for our residents, through initiatives like the Motor Voter Act, which automatically registers people who go to the DMV, and vote by mail, which other states scrambled to adopt in the pandemic. To help preserve this tradition, it’s important to continue electing people to this office like Kate Brown, and current Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who value diversity, equity and inclusion. (Note: This position isn’t on the ballot in 2022, but remember to do you research when 2024 rolls around!)
Remember to VOTE!
As Election Day draws nearer, remember to keep an eye out for BRO Equality PAC’s list endorsements and greenlights. You can also make sure you’re registered to vote with up-to-date information by visiting the Secretary of State’s website.
Thanks for staying informed, and happy voting!