Unintended consequences or not, the 2013 state Legislature made a mistake that will cost Chelan County an estimated $100,000 this year.
The Legislature now must make it a priority in its next session to fix that mistake.
As reported by World reporter Christine Pratt this week, the last bill passed by the Legislature on the final day of its regular session now requires the county to print and mail a ballot for this year’s primary election because one candidate is running for an office.
That candidate, Doug Shae, was appointed to the county prosecutor position in July 2012 to replace retiring prosecutor Gary Riesen. Shae is running unopposed for the position. Spending the money to mail a primary ballot with only his name on it to every registered voter in the county makes no sense. None at all.
In the past, counties were not required to mail odd-year primary ballots if there were no races with more than two candidates.
That made sense but did not best serve the interests of candidates for the Legislature who could double their fund-raising from individuals if their names appeared on both a primary and general election ballot.
Had the legislation limited the ballot-mailing requirement only to legislative races this problem would have been avoided. Even if an essentially useless ballot with one name on it had to be mailed, the county would have received some reimbursement from the state for the legislative race.
Had the Legislature instead addressed the fund-raising motives behind the bill rather than tinker with ballot requirements, this problem would have been avoided.
The issue applies only to odd-year elections when races are held to fill unexpired terms. There are a handful of those throughout the state every other year.
We can hope lawmakers did not see this costly glitch coming when they passed Second Substitute House Bill 1195. Only one member of the Senate and one member of the House opposed the substitute bill. All North Central Washington legislators voted in favor.
State Rep. Brad Hawkins told Pratt he’s disappointed he voted for the bill if it means the county will incur added costs. To his credit, he acknowledged the mistake and need for greater scrutiny of such bills.
Part of the lure of the substitute bill was an anticipated $800,000 in state savings by limiting judicial races, which often attract only one candidate, to the general election ballot if there were two or fewer candidates. That eventually is expected to save counties money.
But the biggest attraction seems to have been the ability of legislative candidates in an off-year election to collect up to $900 per donor for each time their name appeared on a ballot. Once for the primary and once for the general election.
If that is such a pressing issue the Legislature should have gone after it on the campaign-finance side of things rather than through ballot changes.
Let’s hope they learned that lesson.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.