Freeholders torn over election guidelines

"Kitsap County's freeholders unveiled the first draft of their proposed new county charter last week, and it quickly became apparent which provision in the document would arouse the most passion.Depending largely on their political affiliation, freeholders either view the plan to elect a five-member county council by district instead of countywide as the strongest single aspect of the new charter, or as a good enough reason to oppose it entirely.We're better off with what we have now than with this new charter, said Bainbridge Island Freeholder George McKinney. It's not evil, but it's not what we need in this county.I don't understand that at all, countered Jim Martin, who represents South Kitsap on the 21-member board of freeholders. I can't imagine why the people of Poulsbo or Bainbridge Island need to have me vote for their representatives, and I certainly don't need them to help me elect mine.Under the current charter, each of Kitsap's three county commissioners is nominated by their respective district in the primary election. But they are voted on by the entire county during the general election.Under the revised charter, this discrepancy would be eliminated and each member of the newly organized five-person county council would be elected exclusively by the voters of their respective districts in both the primary and general elections.At present, 13 of the 21 freeholders - who McKinney has labeled the granite 13 - favor voting by district. If that margin holds when the freeholders vote on the final draft next month, the measure will go to the county commissioners in November. In turn, they would schedule a special countywide election for February or March during which voters would have a chance to approve or reject the entire package.Critics of the plan argue that electing representatives by district would divide the county into factions and produce a council divided by special interests. Proponents, meanwhile, insist opening elections up to voters countywide yields a less-than-representative outcome.More specifically, doing so creates the possibility a district could be saddled with a representative not of its own choosing. In 1996, for example, Democrat Charlotte Garrido was elected to represent South Kitsap on the board of commissioners despite garnering fewer votes in her home district than Republican Dusty Wiley. Two years later, Republican Carl Johnson outpolled Democrat Tim Botkin in the Central Kitsap region both sought to represent. But Botkin ultimately won the seat because he won more votes countywide.In both cases, the difference was credited to Bainbridge Island, where Democrats hold a 73 percent majority. Elsewhere in the county, the split is much more even.I've heard it said more than once by more than one freeholder that (they're) tired of Bainbridge electing their commissioners, said McKinney.It's all about power, Martin said. The Democrats currently control two of the three county commissioner seats. They're afraid if this goes through, Republicans could win three or four seats on the new council. They don't care whether it's fair or representative of the county's true wishes. They just want to keep control.Martin said the overwhelming majority of voters he has polled countywide - including Bainbridge Island - favor voting by district. In fact, they would prefer that county commissioner be a non-partisan office altogether. That's what we originally talked about doing, he said. But neither party would allow that to happen, so we agreed in that case to do what the parties wanted instead of what the people wanted. That's why it's so important to Martin that, on the question of by-district versus at-large voting, the people get their way. I believe with all my heart this is what the people want, he said. If they didn't, I'd be pushing for countywide voting.Bainbridge Review staff writer John Waldo contributed to this report. "

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