Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson nearly forfeited her office by accident last week, but was saved by the county’s auditor.
Emerson applied on the state’s “My Vote” website to have her voter’s registration address changed from her home on Camano Island to her second home on Fort Nugent Avenue in Oak Harbor. The problem is that the Oak Harbor home isn’t within District 3, which she currently represents, but is in Commissioner Angie Homola’s District 2.
“I pay taxes in the district, so I wanted to have a little input,” said Emerson, who added that she’s a big proponent of voting and loves to vote.
Emerson admitted that Island County Auditor Sheilah Crider saved her from making a huge mistake by warning her of the consequences of changing her voter’s registration address. If Emerson persisted, Crider warned, she would have had to resign her position as commissioner of District 3.
Emerson said she realizes that some people may assume — inaccurately — that she wanted to vote in District 2 in order to cast a ballot against Homola, her political rival, in the primary election. Emerson, a
Tea-Party Republican, has often publicly squabbled with her two fellow commissioners, who are Democrats. She recently was accused of calling Homola an insult that’s also a word for a female dog; Emerson claimed she merely “mouthed” the word.
Homola will likely face three other candidates in the primary election, which has the possibility of being a very tight race. Yet Emerson said her reason for wanting to vote in the district goes beyond the one election. As an interested resident of the area, she wanted to be able to vote on any number of candidates and issues, she said.
As a compromise, Emerson said she will push her husband to change his voter’s registration address so he can vote from Oak Harbor.
Homola said she was unaware that Emerson tried to change her voting address, but she’s glad the auditor stepped in to prevent a problem. She said the commissioners often receive complaints from voters in District 3.
“They don’t feel well represented by Commissioner Emerson and this validates that,” Homola said.
A handful of citizens have alleged at meetings and in emails that Emerson lives nearly full-time in Oak Harbor and doesn’t spend much time in her district.
Emerson, however, has said she splits her time evenly between her Camano and Oak Harbor homes. Her district includes Camano Island and much of North Whidbey outside of Oak Harbor.
According to documents obtained through a public records request, Crider sent Emerson an email April 23 asking if she really wanted to change her voter’s registration address, which is the address where a citizen can vote from. Emerson responded in an email message, saying that she did indeed want to change her address and complaining that Crider had sent the message regarding such a “personal matter” to her work email address.
Crider responded the next day with a legal explanation of the consequences of the address change.
“Making that change that you have requested would require you to resign your office because you will no longer be a registered voter within the district to which you were elected. Is that your intent?” Crider wrote.
In response, Emerson sent an email asking Crider to disregard the original request.
Emerson said she realized she had to be registered to vote in the district when she was a candidate, but she thought the law allowed her to change the address once she was elected. She and her husband purchased a second home in Oak Harbor last year in order to better serve constituents and to save her car — and herself — from the wear and tear of driving between county offices in Coupeville to her home on Camano Island.
Emerson pointed out that there’s a lot of interest in this year’s election. Both of her fellow commissioners are up for election and they are already facing three rivals each.
“It makes me feel great that there are four people in each district who want to work with me,” she said.