CHELAN COUNTY — How much money should taxpayers be expected to pay to allow members of the state Legislature to potentially double their campaign fund-raising dollars?
For Chelan County, a recent change to the state’s election rules means county taxpayers will pay approximately $100,000 for the Aug. 6 primary election. Before the rule change, they would have paid virtually nothing.
The rule change requires counties to hold primary elections every time a partisan race is up for grabs.
That means the Chelan County Auditor’s office must send a ballot to all 38,000 of the county’s registered voters this primary, even though the only post on the county-wide ballot is for county prosecutor.
Doug Shae is running to stay in that position. He’s running unopposed.
A bond issue for the county fire district in Manson will also be on the ballot, but, were it not for the rule change, ballots would only have gone out to the approximately 1,500 voters in Manson, at a cost of about $4,000.
“This is an issue the state Auditor’s Association has been championing for years,” Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore said of Second Substitute House Bill 1195. “We had success, then this repealer came through.”
Moore calls Chelan County a “test case” for how this new rule change, in the name of bolstering candidates’ campaign fundraising, can negatively affect counties.
The bill repeals part of an older law that allowed counties not to hold primary elections in odd-numbered years if two or fewer candidates were vying for each of the posts up for election.
These candidates would skip the primary and appear only on the general election ballot in November. This remains true for non-partisan posts.
The repeal bill passed both the state house and senate in late April by near-unanimous votes.
All three of the region’s 12th District representatives — Cary Condotta and Brad Hawkins in the house, and Linda Evans Parlette in the senate — voted in favor.
The repeal bill’s primary sponsor, State Rep. Sharon Wylie (D, Vancouver) said Tuesday that campaign fundraising was the bill’s primary motivation. It allows candidates to potentially double their campaign contributions.
Legislative and some county-level candidates for office may collect up to $900 per donor for their campaigns for every time their name appears on a ballot, Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission said Tuesday.
Appearance on both a primary and general election ballot allows them to potentially collect up to $1,800 from a single donor.
Wylie was appointed to her post in April 2011 to replace State Rep. Jim Jacks, who resigned mid-term. Under state law, she had to run in a special election that following November.
The seat was hotly contested, but because she had only one opponent, the candidates’ names only appeared on the general election ballot, not the primary. That limited their fund-raising potential to $900 per donor.
Odd election years are typically years to fill non-partisan posts. But a partisan post, like Wylie’s or Chelan County Prosecutor Doug Shae’s, could make an odd-year ballot to allow voters to ratify or replace an appointed official.
Shae was appointed to his post in July 2012 to replace longtime former prosecutor Gary Riesen, who resigned mid-term.
Katie Blinn, the attorney who is director of legislative policy and governmental affairs for the Secretary of State’s office, said Tuesday the Secretary of State originally opposed the repeal bill, but later supported it after an amendment was added that allows counties to limit judicial races to general elections if judge candidates number two or fewer.
Judicial races, which are all non-partisan, have their own election law, she said, but the secretary of state had been twice unsuccessful at persuading lawmakers to make the change.
Since judge candidates typically run unopposed, the amendment to the Second Substitute House Bill 1195 meant net overall savings of $800,000 to the state, she said. And that’s how it was pitched to legislators.
State Rep. Cary Condotta didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
State Sen. Linda Evans Parlette said she doesn’t remember anyone telling her anything negative about the bill. She and State Rep. Brad Hawkins call Chelan County’s predicament an “unintended consequence.”
Hawkins added, “If Chelan County has to incur a bunch of extra costs for their election, then I’m really disappointed I voted for the bill,” he said Tuesday. “You try your best to understand each piece of legislation … You want to get everything right, but it doesn’t sound like we got it right.”
“It may be an unintended consequence,” Auditor Moore said, “but it’s a hell of an unintended consequence for us.”