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School district 'not optimistic' about election mixup

Its legal challenge notwithstanding, the South Kitsap School District likely be forced to pay about $70,000 in election costs for an unneeded primary contest because one of the candidates was not aware of the rules about withdrawing from an election.

Gail Firman Porter, now living near Long Lake, had filed to run against incumbent Naomi Polen and former school board member Chris Lemke for the District 3 post, but subsequently moved out of the area shortly after her June 2 candidate filing.

Since the race was the only South Kitsap contest that required a primary, the school district is obligated by law to pay the entire election cost — unless it can prove wrongdoing on the part of the Auditor’s Office.

South Kitsap School District Superintendent David LaRose has contacted legal counsel about the situation, but admits he’s “not optimistic” the matter will be resolved in the school’s favor.

“We were looking for a way to mitigate this and maybe reduce the bill from the Auditor’s Office,” he said. “That we might have to pay for an unnecessary primary after extreme budget cuts is a tough pill to swallow. So we’re looking for places where there may have been mistakes made that were out of our control.”

LaRose said he was examining the possibility that the Kitsap County Auditor had distributed inaccurate information.

He added that the district would not take action against Porter.

The basis of the “inaccurate information” defense is a discussion that school board member Kathryn Simpson alleges she had with Kitsap County Elections Supervisor Dolores Gilmore.

Simpson said she was told by Gilmore that Porter could serve in the position for two years, even if Porter did not live in the director district.

Gilmore denies any such conversation took place, noting that no elected official can serve at all while living outside of the district they represent.

Porter said she was encouraged by friends to run and the support continued after she had announced her withdrawal.

She did not actively campaign for the position, but still earned nearly 20 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary.

At the time she filed, Porter lived on Banner Road, which is in District 3. During the first week of June she moved to Jasper Place, in District 2.

She said the move was sudden, and caused by her landlord, who had agreed to renew the lease but later changed his mind for health reasons.

When she notified the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office about her new address and asked whether it affected her candidacy, she was told that the move made her ineligible to serve but that the withdrawal deadline had already passed.

Porter said she did not consider her candidacy when choosing a new home, but assumed that moving to Jasper Place would not change her status.

She said she was unable to find a map that defined the boundaries, although a boundary map is available on the county Web site.

Porter said she first informed the auditor of her address change on June 12, at which point she was told it was too late to drop out (the final withdrawal date is June 11).

She said that she made the request to Amie Lemont at the Auditor’s Office, who “left for a long time and came back to tell me I could not withdraw.” 

Once Porter learned about the missed deadline, she thought that the auditor should have been more flexible in allowing her request.

“I don’t see why if they all of a sudden weren't going to have a primary because someone had to withdraw that they couldn’t just send a postcard to everyone and tell them not to turn in their ballots, that the election had been called off,” she said. “That would be a lot cheaper than running an election.

“These laws are wrong,” she said, “and maybe they should change them.”

Gilmore responded to the idea of sending such a postcard by saying that it was outside the scope of election law and could not be accommodated in the current system.

She said any changes would need to be addressed at the state level.

“A lot of people who are running for the first time don’t always know all the rules,” Gilmore said. “So we publish a booklet so it can be available to them.”

While the candidate declaration form signed by Porter does not have the withdrawal date listed, the Candidate/Campaign Guidelines booklet distributed to her and all candidates states the withdrawal date as June 11.

Further, a notice is placed on the counter during the filing period that states “Candidates may withdraw their candidacy in writing through Thursday, June 11, 2009. Filing fees are non-refundable.”

This is the subject of a running joke by Lemont, who repeats the line for the benefit of school board candidates, who pay no filing fee due to the unpaid nature of the job.

Gilmore said she would have allowed a candidate to withdraw one day after the deadline, especially if it were to change the cost of the election.

And while Lemont recalled the conversation with Porter, she said it could not have occurred on June 12 since the office was closed on that day.

Porter’s change of voter registration, which was the official notification of her new address, is dated June 17.

Because Porter was unable to withdraw, her name was on Tuesday’s ballot.

She came in third and was disqualified.

Had she advanced to the general election and been elected, she would not have been able to serve unless she were to move back into the district. Porter said that was unlikely for family reasons.

“I was in the military and we moved a lot,” Porter said. “This is very hard on my daughter and I promised we would not do it again until she graduated from high school.”

Porter said she might take another shot at the school board in 2011.

“There is a seat open in my district in two years,” she said. “I may decide to run.”

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