Voters turn down the charter

It wasn’t a controversial proposal to implement district-only balloting that killed the proposed new Kitsap County charter, former freeholders and members of the pro-charter Committee for Better Representation said Tuesday night.

It wasn’t a plank to create a new county executive, either, or a provision for nonpartisan elections.

To hear charter supporters tell the tale during an election-night gathering at the Givens Community Center in Port Orchard, the charter was done in by a lack of voter awareness and the Democratic Party leadership.

Whatever the reason, the charter seemed doomed for failure in early results released Tuesday. With 44,600 ballots counted, Kitsap County voters were rejecting the measure by a margin of 55.74 percent (32,425) opposed and 44.26 percent (25,742) in favor.

County Auditor Karen Flynn estimated that approximately 19,000 votes remain to be counted before the election is certified Feb. 15. Sixty-two percent would have to be votes in favor for the charter to be approved.

“There are so many ballots out there that conceivably the results could change,” Flynn said. “But it appears unlikely, given that the trend would have to change so substantially.”

Flynn might not have been willing to declare the charter defeated, but supporters of the proposed government reform were.

Marcus Hoffman, one of the 21 freeholders elected to write the charter, said lack of awareness caused voters to reject it.

“When people don’t know,” the Silverdale resident said, “they vote ‘No.’

“Instead of moving into the 21st century, Kitsap County will be stuck in the 19th century,” Hoffman added. “And that’s a shame.”

Most charter proponents expected a close election, given that the measure to initiate the home rule movement was approved by just 51 percent of voters in November 2000. Losing by nearly 10 percentage points was a shock to those who gathered at Givens.

“If it was going to pass, it was going to pass by one vote — mine,” said Gene David Hart, a Bremerton resident and chair of the Committee for Better Representation. “So, yeah, I was surprised by how it went down.”

Hart, who often made a point of identifying himself as a Democrat during a largely partisan charter campaign, blamed the “establishment” of his own party for torpedoing the measure.

“You’ve got 21 citizens (the freeholders) who gave all that time, all that energy,” Hart said. “To have the Democratic leadership throw that away because of partisanship is a travesty.”

John Morgan, a Silverdale attorney and chairman of the county Democratic Central committee, agreed that his party played a role in defeating the charter. Party volunteers spent much of the past three weeks on the phone, urging Democrats to vote against the charter.

“We weren’t the only reason, but we certainly were instrumental in defeating it,” Morgan said.

The charter would have made most elected offices nonpartisan, which Democrats argued would have allowed candidates to obscure their views on important issues.

Democrats also opposed a charter provision for district-only council elections and said the proposed county executive would have become too powerful. Charter opponents feared the new form of government would become too expensive, siphoning off funds otherwise available for key programs and services.

If the freeholders had compromised on those issues, Morgan said, Democrats might not have opposed the reform so vigorously.

“I’m pleased with the results of the election, but I’m not pleased that the county doesn’t have a new charter,” Morgan said. “The Democrats have always stood for good government ... but it certainly wasn’t this charter.”

Jim Martin, a former freeholder who was instrumental in initiating the charter process, said his side failed to get its message across.

“If (voters) had understood, they’d have voted for it overwhelmingly,” the Port Orchard resident said. “And I don’t know how we could have explained it any better.”

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