Voters guide will pose party question

Jeanie Schulze, citizen representative on the voter’s pamphlet committee, looks on as Elections Supervisor Dolores Gilmore explains the election rules at this week’s meeting.  - Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo
Jeanie Schulze, citizen representative on the voter’s pamphlet committee, looks on as Elections Supervisor Dolores Gilmore explains the election rules at this week’s meeting.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s endorsement this past year of the so-called “top two” primary system, it’s conceivable Washington state voters during a future general election could be confronted with the choice of two candidates from the same party rather than several from a variety of parties.

But in Kitsap County, if such a situation arises, voters will at least have the opportunity to know which of the two finalists actually has the official blessing of his or her chosen party.

At the urging of leaders from the local Republican and Democratic parties, the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office finalized plans on Wednesday for its 2008 voters’ pamphlet by adding a new question intended to disclose whether candidates who advance to the general election are, in fact, the preferred candidate of the party with which they are affiliated.

“A lot of times these meetings are routine,” said Elections Manager Suzanne Boltz. “This one has been a lot more interesting.”

Kitsap County has published a voter’s pamphlet for every election since 1989. According to Elections Supervisor Dolores Gilmore, this was one of the first Washington counties to participate in the process by publishing brief profiles of every candidate running for local, state and national offices.

The pamphlet is developed by a committee that includes representatives from the two major parties, a citizen representative, a member of the League of Women Voters and members of the local media.

The purpose of each meeting is to compose the questions that will be sent to each candidate in order to inform the voters about where he or she stands on general issues.

As Boltz noted, these meetings are typically routine, with attendees asked to do little more than change a word or two here and there. But with the advent of the “top two” system, the process has become a little more involved.

Most notably, the concept of party affiliation became the most important decision addressed during Wednesday’s meeting.

Both Republican Chairman Jack Hamilton and Democratic Chairman Carl Olson agreed that the new system pushing party preference into the background was not a good thing for them — or the voters — since identification with a party and its platform can help to both clarify the candidate’s position and decrease voter confusion.

Said Hamilton, “In many cases a candidate will use their party preference to explain who and what they are.”

For example, “Voters rarely know anything about judicial candidates,” he said. “Whatever you ask them, the answer is always the same: ‘I am a good lawyer. I will be a good judge. Vote for me.’ So people often turn to their parties in order to decide who to vote for. They gain a sense that the person they elect will have something they can identify with, and they will have some identity they will carry into the office if they are elected.”

With this in mind, in this year’s voter pamphlet each candidate will be asked his or her party preference as part of their profile — either Democratic, Republican, Independent or as a member of several minor parties.

In addition, the candidate will be asked whether they have gained the “approval” of their parties.

This will prompt the creation of a check box, in which the candidate will be asked to select a “yes,” “no,” or “n/a” answer.

The party leaders were careful to use the word “approved” rather than “endorsed” in the question.

Olson explained that his party is planning a nominating convention on May 19, at which time South Kitsap commissioner candidates Monty Mahan or Charlotte Garrido (currently the only local race with two Democrats opposing each other) could get the party’s official nod.

Or the party could abstain from making an endorsement, conferring on both candidates the less-definitive “approval.”

The other two approved candidate questions, borrowed from the 2006 form, are, “What background and experience do you bring to this office?” and, “If elected, what will be your top two priorities and how will you accomplish them?”

For judicial candidates, the second question will became, “What is your philosophy about the role of a judge?”

Previously, candidates were required to answer both questions in a 200-word space. This year, the response has been expanded to 250 words.

Candidates will be asked to answer the questions when they file for their respective offices, and will have one week from the filing deadline to answer the questions.

The pamphlets will be sent to every home in the county 22 days prior to the Aug. 19 primary and the Nov. 4 general election, which is two days before the ballots are mailed.

Military ballots, which are mailed 30 days prior to the election dates, contain the pamphlet and the ballot in the same envelope.

Candidates moving on to the general election will have the opportunity to revise their statement, but the questions are the same.

The pamphlet will also be available online and at other locations throughout the county.

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