Voters weigh in on marijuana, food labels, governor's race and more as Election Day arrives



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PORTLAND, Oregon — After tens of millions of dollars spent, thousands of television commercials and an untold number of phone calls and handshakes, Oregon's election is now in the hands of voters.

Voters have just one last day — Tuesday — to help decide who will be the state's next governor and U.S. senator, whether Oregon should legalize marijuana, and if it should require labels for genetically engineered foods.

Control of the state Legislature is up for grabs, along with a host of local races around the state.

Republicans Dennis Richardson and Monica Wehby made a final pitch to voters Monday, hoping to secure improbable wins in their campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate, respectively.

Voters have until 8 p.m. to get their ballots into a collection bin. A list of all drop boxes around the state is available at http://www.OregonVotes.gov .

Despite being the underdog against Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, Richardson sounded an optimistic tone.

"I feel like I've done everything I can to show the difference between what Kitzhaber has failed to do and what I will do," Richardson said after signing his ballot and depositing it in an official Multnomah County drop box in downtown Portland.

Kitzhaber, battered by the failure of the Cover Oregon health insurance website and ethical questions about his fiancee's role in his administration, was nowhere to be found Monday. His campaign staff did not respond to calls asking about his plans for the campaign's final hours.

Richardson has hammered Kitzhaber over Cover Oregon and accused him of corruption because of work Kitzhaber's fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, did for advocacy groups that had an interest in state policy. Kitzhaber has said she took care to avoid conflicts.

The governor faced yet another controversy Monday, when a former senior aide to Kitzhaber wrote an op-ed published in the Oregonian alleging staff in the governor's office kept a blurry line between campaign and public business, though she did not offer specific examples.

Nkenge Harmon Johnson was Kitzhaber's communications director for six months before she abruptly departed in July. She told The Associated Press she was fired after she made comments about Hayes' role in the office and said the governor's policy advisers should be keeping abreast of what Hayes was saying in meetings on policy issues.

"The first lady felt my comments were condescending, because she'd been doing this work a long time, and she didn't need anyone to advise her and look over her shoulder while she was doing so," Harmon Johnson said. "Shortly after that, a day or so after that, I was gone."

Kitzhaber's office disputed her account, saying Harmon Johnson's superiors had already raised performance issues before the she spoke about the first lady.

"She was fired by our office for performance-related issues," said Rachel Wray, a governor's office spokeswoman. "It wasn't a question of loyalty but her performance as the communications director."

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, strongly favored to win a second term, campaigned literally across the state Monday, with a morning rally in Ontario, on the Idaho border, and an evening event in Portland.

Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon from Portland, has positioned herself as a pragmatic moderate Republican in contrast to Merkley's reputation as one of the most liberal senators.

But she's struggled to recover from setbacks, including the release of old police reports showing two men accused her of harassment and the revelation that sections of her website were taken from other Republicans.

She held a rally with Richardson in Beaverton on Monday.

All five of Oregon's representatives in the U.S. House are up for re-election, but none faces a serious threat.

Control of the state Legislature will be decided in a handful of competitive districts.

On the Senate side, the battleground is in two districts: one that includes Medford and Ashland in southern Oregon, the other in Corvallis and Albany. The House will be decided by contested races in the Portland suburbs, Bend and Salem. Democrats currently have the majority in both chambers.

Voters also will be deciding a number of high-profile ballot measures:

— Measure 91 would legalize marijuana for recreational use.

— Measure 88 would grant driving privileges to people who cannot prove they are legally in the United States.

— Measure 92 would require labels for genetically engineered foods.

— Measure 90 would change Oregon's election laws to use the top-two primary election system in place in California and Washington.

With a combined $27 million raised on both sides, the food labeling initiative is the most expensive in state history.

Nearly 40 percent of registered voters already had turned in a ballot by Sunday night — well over half of the total ballots that are likely to be cast.

Republicans had a slight edge in turnout — 44.7 percent compared with 43.7 percent for the Democrats. But Democrats outnumber Republicans, so there were still more ballots turned in by registered Democrats than Republicans.

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