Charter election tough to predict

Charter backers and opponents won’t predict an outcome of Tuesday’s vote on the government reform, but activists on both sides think it’ll be close.

Kitsap County Auditor’s Office officials, however, made one prediction: Only about half of the county’s voters will return the ballots that were mailed on Jan. 16.

As of Thursday, Jan. 31, 30,796 of the 127,164 ballots (or 30.5 percent) had been returned, according to Delores Gilmore, elections manager for the Auditor’s Office.

Voters are being asked if they want to approve a new county charter, which would create an elected county executive and a five-member county council elected in district-only polling. The charter also would make most county elections nonpartisan and shift most of them to odd-numbered years, among other reforms.

Gene David Hart, president of the pro-charter Committee for Better Representation, said he’s heard almost exclusively positive comments about the charter while campaigning. Still, he predicted a close election.

If it is close, vocal charter opponent Jim Sharpe said, it will be because voters aren’t familiar with the issue.

“I hope it’s not close,” Sharpe said. “But because there’s such a feeling of not being informed on the part of the voters, you just don’t know what that’s going to mean.”

The last countywide, all-mail special election conducted in Kitsap was the May 2001 Kitsap Transit sales tax levy request. Gilmore said 43 percent of the county’s registered voters participated in that election.

“I would think for this one, since we sent out voters’ pamphlets and there’s been a lot of information, we’re hoping it’ll be at least 50 percent,” Gilmore said.

Hart said he’s not too concerned about lack of voter awareness.

“There’s a small number that don’t know, but the vast majority of folks are saying, ‘I’m for it,’” Hart said. “And more folks are saying, ‘I’m aware of it’ than ‘I’m not aware of it.’”

Which doesn’t mean Hart is overly confident the charter will be approved. In November 2000, 52 percent of Kitsap voters approved initiation of the charter process, while 48 percent voted against it.

“So if we haven’t lost any votes this time around, it’s going to pass. Other people out there are more confident, but from my perspective it’s still too close to call,” Hart said.

That might be the only charter issue on which Sharpe agrees with Hart.

“I think they’ve done a fairly poor job of explaining the charter,” Sharpe said. “I don’t think people are foolish enough to vote for something if they don’t know what the final outcome is going to be.”

The first voter totals will be released at 8 p.m. Tuesday, and will be posted at Every ballot received by the Auditor’s Office by the evening of Monday, Feb. 4, will have been tabulated by then.

The election is scheduled to be certified by Friday, Feb. 15.

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