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Small Whidbey voter pool supports Webster, I-747

A slowly escalating vote count at the Island County Auditor’s Office from Tuesday’s election showed late this week that Whidbey Island voters made clear choices in a handful of contested elections. They also asked for an increase in taxes on tobacco products, but at the same time showed their dislike for property taxes by voting for Initiative 747.

By Thursday afternoon, employees at the auditor’s office had counted 11,580 ballots out of an approximate 15,500 turned in at the polls and through the mail Tuesday. Turnout for the off-year election was low, said Auditor Suzanne Sinclair, a fact borne out by the number of mail-in ballots that were not returned. More than 21,000 of the ballots went to voters’ mailboxes, a total far exceeding the total number of votes cast by all polling methods. By Friday, a tally of ballots cast showed only 28.5 percent of the county’s eligible voters went to the polls or voted by mail. Statewide, turnout was 31.4 percent.

There was one clear winner emerging by Friday. In the most widely voted-on race on South Whidbey, Langley’s Dennis Webster had a 957-623 edge over Freeland’s Dennis Benning in the race for Fire Protection District 3 commissioner. Webster’s margin widened significantly during Thursday’s count, increasing from a 268-vote advantage to 334 by the end of the day.

Drawing limited interest was one contested commissioner race in the Holmes Harbor Sewer District. By Friday, appointed commissioner Don LaMontagne had picked up 16 votes, while his write-in opponent, Bob Randolph, tallied 13. Four other unopposed candidates for the remaining commissioner seats in the district were polling between 24 and 47 votes as of Friday morning. The auditor’s office had not finished counting ballots for the sewer district by Friday morning.

In the only other contested races on the Southend, John Fremming led Ken McLaughlin 20-19 for one contested seat in the Scatchet Head Water District. Duffy Schoeler led incumbent commissioner David Morphew 26-19 in the district’s other race.

Attracting the most islandwide interest were the state initiative issues. Although a breakdown of South Whidbey voting was not available this week, Island County voters helped put a stamp of approval on I-747, a initiative that will limit the percentage by which property taxes can rise each year to 1 percent. Heading for approval statewide, the initiative had garnered 2,100 more Yes votes by Friday than No votes with more than 11,000 people casting ballots.

Even as voters sought to reduce their taxes in one area, they agreed to tax themselves more in another. Initiative 773, a measure that would add a new, 60-cent tax to each pack of cigarettes sold in the state, was also on its way to passage Friday. In the county, the tally in favor of the initiative was 7,440-3,927, a 65 percent approval rating that was in step with the 64 percent Yes vote statewide.

The only ballot measure county voters opposed was one giving the state legislature more choices about how it invests state funds. Fifty-seven percent of voters state-wide said “no” to the idea.

Election results will not be considered final until Nov. 21, when the Island County Auditor’s Office certifies the results.

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