Ballot omission angers Dems

When Island County absentee ballots go to punch out their selections Tuesday, there will be several names missing from the ballot — a fact that has angered one political party.

No names of the uncontested precinct committee officers will appear on the absentee ballots for Tuesday’s primary election. A PCO is a grass-roots position that encourages other members of his or her party to vote, organizes caucuses and has other political duties. Each precinct can elect separate Democrat, Republican or Libertarian PCOs within the same precinct. If PCO candidates do not receive a state-determined minimum percentage of votes in precinct elections, they cannot serve.

Suzanne Sinclair, the Island County auditor, said in a recent letter that the names have been left off in the past and no one has said anything about it. She said the extra names add to the cost of the election.

In the letter, she claims she is following the state law, which states only that if a race is contested, it must be on the ballot.

But Ann McDonald, vice-chair of the Island County Democrats, does not accept Sinclair’s explanation.

“It doesn’t really address the issue as we would like to see it addressed,” she said this week.

McDonald said the auditor’s office should have mailed ballots with the PCO names on them as requested in a Sept. 2 letter to Sinclair from Washington State Democratic Chair Paul Brendt.

McDonald said Brendt is now in discussions with attorney David McDonald over the issue. The state party did not decide to take action until yesterday because Brendt and Island County Democrat chair Grethe Cammermeyer — whom Sinclair addressed her letter to earlier this week — were out of the county.

The Democrats’ concern mainly stems from the state’s requirement for election of all PCO candidates. It requires candidates to receive at least 10 percent of the number of votes cast for the highest vote-getter of their party in a particular precinct in order to serve.

For example, if 40 voters in a precinct voted for Governor Gary Locke in the 2000 election, then at least four voters must vote for the PCO in a precinct, said county auditor Sinclair.

Since 70 percent of Island County’s residents vote by either absentee or mail-in ballot, McDonald and other Island County Democrats fear that some PCOs will not receive enough votes if their names are left off the absentee ballots. There are 35 PCOs running unopposed.

Both Sinclair and McDonald said they do not know of anyone who did not reach the 10-percent threshold in past elections.

Mail-in ballots, which do list all PCOs, are different from absentee ballots. They are sent to entire precincts of less than 200 people where the county auditor has decided all voters must vote by mail. There are six such precincts in South Whidbey.

Whatever happens, Sinclair said Tuesday’s primary and the Nov. 2 general election are probably the last time absentee and mail-in voters will use punch-card ballots in a major election. Next year, the nation expected to adopt “optical scan” ballots. Sinclair said all candidates, including uncontested PCOs, will be on those ballot.

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