The Ballots “Dropped"
Orientational Aids--Find Your Way Through the Rhetoric
Ballots for the August 1 Primary Election in Washington State were mailed out this week. They ought to appear in your mailbox by this weekend. I hope this post offers tools you can use to orient yourself in this down-ballot, odd-numbered year, sometimes obscure election.
A lot of information follows that you might find useful or interesting, but if you’re in a hurry to fill out your ballot my best recommendation is the progressivevotersguide.com. It is especially good for the City of Spokane, less informative for the City of Spokane Valley. Unfortunately, it is mostly silent on other municipalities in Spokane County and on most school board and fire district races.
Vote.wa.gov is very much worth a visit to explore your particular ballot. (See paragraphs below for much more detail on navigating that site.)
In most elections I also consult what I consider to be a valuable negative voting guide, webelievewevote.com, but when I checked yesterday morning it was still “undergoing an update”. You might want to check in case they complete their update.
A Note on School Board Director Elections
Next Monday’s will attempt to address the School Board Director candidates that appear on these ballots. School boards have become a battleground. Vote well. There are at least three school districts in our region that are engaged in acrimonious recall efforts because they elected a board majority that is taking a wrecking ball to the school district. Recalls are much more challenging, costly, and divisive than electing reasonable people in the first place.
General Orientation and Some Rambling
These newly-mailed ballots are due to be turned in before Tuesday, August 1. They determine which two candidates advance to the Tuesday, November 7, General Election. (See P.S. below for more detail on how this works and why.) Orienting oneself in the electoral landscape is challenging for two reasons: 1) only those offices that have three or more candidates appear on the ballot and 2) the offices that appear on the ballot are for a hodgepodge of overlapping electoral districts: municipal (city) offices; school board “directors”, aka “members”; fire district “commissioners”; and various locally voted municipal and fire district “propositions”, some which involve bonds and levies. As a consequence, your neighbor across the street might receive a slightly different ballot (or none at all) based on differing electoral districts. (See APPENDIX below for links to the various district maps.)
With all that, the August 1 Primary can be a bit obscure. Traditionally, on time ballot turn-in for the August 1 Primary is a rather low percentage of the ballots sent out. That’s a problem (think of the far right Steve Bannon exhortation to take over government from the bottom up—in this election that would be school boards and fire districts). Fringe candidates with a well-developed social media presence can advance to the November General election with only modest support thanks to voter inattention to the Primary election. That limits choices available to the broader electorate that pays attention in November. (This is also a prime argument in favor of Ranked Choice Voting.)
A Note on “Non-Partisan”
The offices that appear on this Primary ballot are nominally “non-partisan”. That is more than a little deceiving in our partisan landscape. Dyed-in-the-wool Republican ideologues running in the City of Spokane, for example, put out purposefully deceptive election signage with blue coloring and “non-partisan” prominently displayed (See Shawn Vestal on City of Spokane elections and Nate Sanford of The Inlander here and here.)
“Your Spokane County Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet” and Vote.wa.gov
Many of us already received “Your Spokane County Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet”. It covers all the candidates and propositions that appear on a Primary ballot in any part of Spokane County. It is worth your time to check your registration and your particular electoral landscape by going to vote.wa.gov, keying in your name and birthdate, and clicking “Voters’ Guide”. The displayed page should offer you links to useful information about the candidates on your particular ballot.
Arguably the most useful link found at your vote.wa.gov page is the link to “Candidate Contributions”. Click on “Voters’ Guide”, then on the candidate’s name and find the “Contributions” link on the right side of that official candidate page. That link takes you to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). With a little bit of clicking around the PDC webpages you can learn who backs a candidate, which often gives a strong clue as to connections and party affiliations. For example, click “See Contributions” on City of Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward’s PDC page. The majority of major “individual” contributions (limited to $1200 per election per person contributing) come from names associated with developers, builders, and real estate agents. Some of these same individual donors will also contribute a lot of additional money to what are called “Political Committees” in Washington State (think “Political Action Committees” on a federal level), Committees that can make “‘independent’ expenditures” on behalf of candidates. These “Political Committees”, often with obscure names like “Spokane Good Governance Alliance” financed by a few wealthy donors, will bombard you with ads on TV, radio, paper fliers, and social media this election season. Pay attention to what organization it is that is trying to influence your vote.
Bottom line: do some homework, get informed, talk up what you find out with friends, relatives, and neighbors, and vote. Learn more about your location’s electoral landscape.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Confusingly, not all the offices up for election this cycle appear on the Primary ballot. This can leave the voter wondering where the candidates are that they’ve been reading about. Here’s the answer: If there are only two candidates for a particular office they will first appear on the General Election ballot for November. What’s the game here? People steeped in electoral politics understand there are advantages to having their favored candidate appear in the Primary. Having a place on the Primary ballot enhances name recognition for the General; appearing on the Primary ballot gives donors a chance to contribute another $1200 directly to their favored candidate (the contribution limit is per election), money that could not otherwise be legally collected; and the vote tally from the Primary is an indicator of support (even if a wobbly one). One suspects that some candidates who never really mount a campaign are put forward (and, perhaps, the candidate registration fees paid) by electoral operatives solely for the reasons outlined.
APPENDIX-LINKS TO MAPS FOR ELECTORAL ORIENTATION
A great interactive map for WA State CDs and LDs: [the Legislative and Congressional Districts are not at issue in this election cycle. They’ll appear next year.] http://app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder/
City of Spokane, City Council District Map: https://my.spokanecity.org/opendata/gis/council-districts/
Spokane County School District Maps: https://cp.spokanecounty.org/scout/map/
(This is SCOUT, a digital map system with a huge amount of information maintained by Spokane County. It takes a computer screen and some time to acquire a few moderately nerdy map manipulation skills. For school districts select “Elections Features/School Director Districts” in the pulldown menu that looks like a stack of papers. You may also want to uncheck “Property Features/Parcels” under that same pulldown. School Director Districts appear and disappear depending on magnification. Select “Districts” below the map so that when you click on a particular location more specifics for that location will appear in the table below the map. All of this is easier when you’re actually doing it than it sounds from the description.
Spokane County Fire Districts: http://www.interceptradio.com/wiki/index.php/Spokane_County,_WA . You can also work backward on the SCOUT map by clicking on a location. The Fire District will appear on the table below the map for that location and then, by clicking “Show”, the extent of that location’s Fire District will show on the map. The City of Spokane’s Fire Department is overseen by City government rather than by community-elected board members.