All Politics is Local

Is the county council special election kind of a waste of money?

Both candidates running an upcoming special election for Clark County Council have talked a lot about being careful with taxpayer money. But part of their election is, arguably, a waste of taxpayers’ money. 

Camas resident Bill Baird brought to our attention that the special election for Clark County Council is the only race to appear on his primary ballot. The race features only two candidates: Republican Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy and Democratic challenger Adrian Cortes. Baird, in an email, asked if the Aug. 6 election would determine the outcome of the race or if the two candidates would appear again on the November general election ballot. 

Thanks to a quirk in Washington’s electoral law, voters like Baird have indeed been issued a ballot that’s kind of pointless (depending on your point of view). His ballot features only one race, and it won’t matter how he and others vote because the exact same race will again appear on the November general election ballot (when the results will actually count.)

In Washington, partisan elections occur during even-number years, when state legislators, Congress critters and county officials are on the ballot. Odd-number years are for non-partisan races, such as school boards, city councils and cemetery districts (mostly these elections are for voters to not bother to vote). 

Earlier this year, Medvigy was appointed to Eileen Quiring’s old seat on the partisan Clark County Council after she became county chair. Medvigy has to run in a special election to keep the seat. Washington has a top-two primary where the two candidates who receive the most votes advance to the general. 

But under state election law, all partisan races have to appear on the primary ballot even if there are only two candidates on the ballot. So the special Clark County Council race will be on Baird’s primary ballot. But nonpartisan races for Camas City Council won’t appear on his ballot until November because they all only have one or two candidates for each position. Make sense?

According to Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, approximately 52,000 voters received a primary ballot this year with only the county council race at cost of $45,000. 

“It strikes me as ironic that both County District 4 candidates commit in their voters’ pamphlet statement to save taxpayers’ money,” wrote Baird in an email. “Yet state law requires that they appear on both the primary and general election ballots, costing taxpayers’ money.”

So what gives? Why have a taxpayer-sponsored electoral dress rehearsal? 

Kimsey said that he’s asked the Legislature to change the law so that partisan races with only two candidates don’t appear on both ballots. 

“It has not made any progress in the Legislature,” he said. 

He said that legislators are reluctant to change the law because campaign contribution limits are tied to the primary and general elections. For both local and legislative elections, individuals can give $1,000 for the primary and another $1,000 for the general. 

Kimsey said he’s also heard that candidates use the results of the primary to inform them of their relative standing going into the general. 

“So that’s a benefit to the candidates, but it doesn’t do anything for voters,” he said.