Primary rules still unclear

With all the confusion over the type and scope of September’s primary election, county auditors statewide informed those in charge they needed specific ballot guidelines by May 1.

That date has come and gone, with no firm details provided.

Meanwhile, local election officials are operating under the assumption the “Montana-style” primary, which does not allow cross-party voting, will go unchallenged and be in place for this election.

What happens next time, however, is anybody’s guess.

There are myriad options for this year’s ballot. There may be four separate ballots — one for each party and nonpartisan choices — with voters asked to return just two. Or one large ballot with four distinct areas, with a warning that a voter who selects a Republican for one office cannot choose a Democrat for another without voiding the ballot.

And with 185 precincts in the county, the auditor could end up printing 660 different ballots.

Any way you slice it, Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn said the ballot promises to be “confusing and difficult.” Her mission, in which she is aided by Kitsap County elections manager Delores Gilmore, is to make it less so.

“We’re looking for the best way to implement the primary that we ended up with,” Flynn said. “We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do, but we want to do what works best for the citizens. We want to provide a ballot that people understand, that they don’t inadvertently invalidate.”

With this in mind, Flynn is attending an election administrators’ meeting this week in Wenatchee, at which elections officials will attempt to provide a statewide structure for ballot strategy — even though each county has different needs when it comes to ballots.

By state law, the names on the ballot will not be final until the filing deadline at the end of July. The auditor’s office then has almost a month to prepare the final ballots in order to mail absentee forms out three weeks prior to the Sept. 14 primary.

Kitsap County uses a ballot layout software program, the same used by Pierce and Snohomish Counties.

This takes into account a number of issues, such as paper stock, name order and keeping fill-in boxes away from the fold.

Ballot design in Kitsap County began its evolution in 1995, when relaxed rules allowed an emphasis on absentee voting.

Since then, several mail-only elections have occurred, and any new ballot must accommodate the stay-at-home voter.

By the time primary day rolls around, hopes are that votes will be cast with a minimum of confusion.

“The average voter has no idea how complex this process is,” said Flynn. “Voting itself is simple. But there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes. There’s an amazing amount of security and care involved.”

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