Only one Starr, actually, in this case, State Senator Bruce Starr, who is challenging Brad Avakian, the incumbent Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries. Senator Starr and Commissioner Avakian are the only two persons who filed for this nonpartisan office. Under the common understanding of Oregon's election laws, their names would appear on the May primary ballot. If one were to receive a majority of the votes cast, that person would be elected; if neither received a majority, then the names of both would appear on the November ballot.
In 2009, the Oregon legislature decided to move the BOLI commissioner race to the non-presidential election years, and passed a law stating that the commissioner elected in the November 2012 general election would serve a two-year term instead of a four-year term, so that the office would next come up for election in 2014 instead of 2016. (See the note under ORS 651.030, here.)
Secretary of State Brown determined that, since only two candidates filed for the office this year, there would be no primary election, as in her view the 2009 amendment meant that the BOLI Commissioner office must be elected at the November 2012 election, and not in the May 2012 primary. I believe her reasoning is either (a) that as ORS 249.091 states that if only two persons file for a nonpartisan office, they are both nominated and their names shall not be printed on the primary election ballots, so neither Senator Starr nor Commissioner Avakian may have their names on the May ballot; or (b) that as ORS 249.088 says that a candidate for a nonpartisan office who receives a majority of the votes is elected, and as the 2009 amendment refers to the BOLI Commissioner being elected in November, a winner can't be elected in May without violating the 2009 amendment.
Senator Starr and Commissioner Avakian were both campaigning with the idea that the May election would decide their race. After Secretary Brown dropped her bombshell, Senator Starr filed suit to overturn her decision. Willamette Week, which had the story first, links to the senator's complaint, which is worth reading and sets out his position clearly.
Having read the complaint, the statutes, and the legislation, it seems to me that Senator Starr has the better argument. Secretary Brown is misreading the meaning of the words "to fill a vacancy" in ORS 249.091. Here's the complete statute so that you can see for yourself:
Unless otherwise provided by a home rule charter, if a nominating petition or declaration of candidacy is filed by no more than two candidates for the office of sheriff, the office of county treasurer or the office of county clerk or by no more than two candidates to fill a vacancy in a nonpartisan office:
(1) The candidate or candidates shall be the nominee or nominees for the office; and
(2) The name or names of the candidate or candidates may not be printed on the ballot at the nominating election.
The question is what the words "to fill a vacancy" mean. Senator Starr argues, rightly in my opinion, that the office of BOLI Commissioner is not vacant -- Commissioner Avakian would certainly agree with him! -- and this election is not an election to fill a vacancy. Because this is not an election to fill a vacancy, ORS 249.091 does not prohibit the candidates' names from appearing on the May nominating ballot. Secretary Brown got it wrong.
The clearest proof that she got it wrong is in ORS Chapter 204, relating to how county commissioners are selected. ORS 204.005 provides that at the primary or general election, as provided in ORS 249.088, counties will elect:
(e) A county commissioner to succeed any commissioner whose term of office expires the following January.
(f) In any county where there is a vacancy from any cause in the office of county commissioner, an additional commissioner to fill the vacancy.
The legislature distinguished regular elections from elections to fill vacancies. The seat of a county commissioner whose term is to expire in January is not vacant. Neither is the office of BOLI Commissioner vacant. The election is thus not an election "to fill a vacancy" and the names of Senator Starr and Commissioner Avakian should appear on the May ballot.
Isaac predicts that the Attorney General's office will advise Secretary Brown to correct herself before the Marion County Circuit Court has to do it. Look for the BOLI election to be on the May ballot, as the law requires.