Opinion

Voter's pamphlet lacks luster

The August Primary Election ballots have been mailed and received by many voters in the county. Not all voters will get a ballot because there may not be an election in the district in which they live or there may not be more than two candidates running for a position. If you think you should have received a ballot but have not, call the Elections Office at (360) 337-7128 and check it out. When you call, please have your voter registration card in hand so you can identify the specific precinct and districts in which you reside.

If you opened your ballot and asked “Who are these people?” you are not alone. For the first time in a number of years, the Auditor did not prepare and mail out a local voter’s pamphlet. Because the races in this off-year are non-partisan (generally) and because they deal mostly with city councils, school districts and port districts, the candidates did not raise large sums of money and paper the county with campaign literature. In prior years, the voter’s pamphlet was the primary means for most candidates to reach the voters and present their message. The loss of that means of communication in the current races is especially difficult for new candidates who do not have name recognition or those challenging incumbents. With the loss of the proven effective means for candidates to communicate with voters provided by the pamphlet, I anticipate a lower than normal voter turnout. That is unfortunate because it further removes the citizens from those who are making decisions in their name and reduces their sense of “ownership” of government.

While I am a strong advocate for the responsibility of an individual to be informed about their government, I am also realistic enough to know that the opportunity for a citizen to capture and absorb information about candidates is limited. Editorial board endorsements are not the kind of primary information that I would hope citizens rely on as basic source data. Equally important, I have reasonable doubt that most voters actually understand the duties, responsibilities and authorities of the offices to which they are electing people. We have reached a point in political discourse at which the details of the office are less important than the candidate’s position on some issue not within their authority to act on.

Case in point is the Bremerton Port commissioner race. There are three candidates. One has previously served as mayor of Bremerton and was replaced in that office by the new port CEO. How many voters really understand what the function of a port district is and thus what the duties and responsibilities of a port commissioner are? How many voters understand that election as a Port commissioner can also result in that elected representative serving on the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council, Puget Sound Regional Council, and any number of other public district boards? Do voters understand that by electing an individual to take care of port responsibilities they may also be electing a person to help write region wide or county wide land use and transportation planning policies? In the case of the Port of Bremerton, do voters understand that the Port includes the Bremerton Airport, land and facilities at SKIA, and two marinas that operate at a deficit and are supported by tax payer funding? Do they realize that the boat owners who use the two port marinas do not have to live in the port to be subsidized by the taxpayers of the district? If those issues are of concern to the voters, and they well should be, how are the voters to learn? It certainly will not be through the BKAT/Comcast TV Voter’s Guide that has replaced the mailed hard copy. The questions posed about the Bremerton Port District election are mirrored in every other election this year.

It is indeed unfortunate that the auditor, acting alone, was able to make a decision that will have such a negative impact on the ability of voters to make sound decisions. Did I mention that the lack of a voter/s pamphlet provides a pronounced advantage to incumbents seeking reelection?

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