Money comes in to run a primary

The change from a blanket primary to the newly chosen Montana Primary became a bit easier for Island County.

The Board of Island County Commissioners unanimously approved the receipt of $71,000 in state funds June 28. The money will be used to offset the additional costs associated with the different primary system, Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair said.

The state changed its primary system after the United States Supreme Court ruled the traditional blanket system was unconstitutional. This will be the first new primary system in 70 years, said Trova Hutchison, communications director for Washington’s Secretary of State.

In the blanket system, all candidates appeared on the same ballot regardless of political party. In the new Montana system, voters will have to request a ballot offering only a single party’s candidates, or one offering only ballot measures and non-partisan positions, such as judges.

“It was one of those things that I didn’t have strong personal feelings about,” Sinclair said. “Any system that is rational and people use it to express their opinions works. Participation is the key.”

The extra costs come from additional printing charges, extra people needed to work polling places and an informational campaign about the new primary system.

The county will receive 90 percent of the money, or $63,900 initially, with the additional 10 percent available on an as needed basis.

The money became available after Washington used a less-expensive caucus instead of the traditional primary for the presidential primary. The county budget shortfalls were created when the traditional primary was declared unconstitutional, Sinclair said.

Counties had budgeted for that system, and had not planned for extra costs that will be incurred, she said.

The state is unsure how it will be able to tabulate votes for the new primary because the equipment was set up for a blanket style of primary, Hutchison said.

“The top two system would have been simpler,” she said.

In that system, all candidates appear on the same ballot, with the top two vote getters advancing to the general election regardless of party. That could happen next year if voters in November approve a Grange-sponsored initiative to that effect. Signatures for the initiative were turned in this week.

For the Sept. 14, primary, counties have the option of printing separate ballots for each political affiliation, Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian, or one ballot for measures and all non-partisan races. Counties could opt for a consolidated ballot instead, Hutchison said.

The consolidated ballot groups candidates by party on a single ballot. Voters must then choose their party affiliation and vote only with that party.

Sinclair said Island County will use a consolidated ballot for the Sept. 14 primary.

“It’s one of those situations where you take the safer route rather than the sorrier route,” Sinclair said.

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