The widespread apathy probably reflects the absence of candidates on Portland ballots. Instead, local voters are tasked with deciding four measures.
Two are money measures: a $475 million Metro bond that will be used to purchase and preserve open spaces; and a five-year Portland Public Schools serial levy that will raise about $100 million a year to keep nearly 900 teachers on the payroll. Both of those measures replace existing measures, so if they pass, taxpayers' property taxes will not rise because of them—they will continue paying current amounts for previous measures.
The other two ballot choices relate to the city of Portland's Water Bureau. One would increase protections for the 102-square-mile Bull Run Watershed near Mt. Hood. Currently, city code allows the city council could make changes to the Bull Run, the source of the city's drinking water, via a simple majority vote. The ballot measure would enshrine current protections in the city's charter, which cannot be changed without a majority vote of the electorate, a higher hurdle.
Finally, the fourth measure would allow the Water Bureau to enter into emergency aid agreements with peer agencies in other cities so that in the event of a disaster such as an earthquake or major flood, Portland can either give or receive aid.