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Primary vote change controversial

Kitsap County is already preparing for the Sept. 14 primary election, designing a new ballot and embarking upon a voter education project about what has become an unprecedented political event in Washington. For the first time, primary voters must declare a political party in order to select candidates for that party’s nomination.

This represents a change from the open primary process with which state voters are well accustomed.

“This will be controversial,” Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn said. “Washington voters are very independent. From our experience, they become angry when asked to declare a party preference. Because of this, they may not want to participate in the voting process at all.”

Lower participation is an election official’s worst nightmare because fewer voters decrease the mandate. And Flynn said she doesn’t want to see anything decrease the turnout in Kitsap County — an impressive 79 percent in the 2000 general election.

Flynn unveiled the new ballot recently in Silverdale, addressing a group of party officials and interested citizens about the changes.

While relating a short history of the ballot changes Flynn said, “I don’t want to relive this.” She said the primary was changed because California instituted a similar system which was challenged and found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. After the ruling, Washington was forced to change its system.

The Kitsap County ballot was designed in cooperation with auditors from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. During the design, Flynn and other auditors felt the four ballot option — with separate ballots for Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and unaffiliated — was the best option. However, results of a voter focus group prompted a single ballot with four sections.

The new format allows votes for only Democrat, Republican, Libertarian and non-partisan candidates.

Here, the voter must declare an affiliation at the top of the ballot, which validates choices in that particular party column. For example, a declared Democrat’s vote for a Republican would not be counted.

The next step in ballot design will begin July 30, after the filing deadline expires and auditors can determine which names will be on the ballot.

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