King County Conservative District

It was close, but in a streak of futility that rivals that of the Chicago Cubs, King County’s conservation community once again failed to win its chosen candidate a seat on the board of the King County Conservation District, with (u)SP endorsed Preston Drew edging out HA favorite Mark Sollitto by a 1,357 to 1,199 margin.

Ah well.  I guess the people have spoken.  You know, all 2,757 of them… out of a pool of over 1.1 million registered voters.  That’s a turnout rate of less than 0.25%, compared to the respectable 83.9% of registered voters who turned out last November.

What a stupid, fucking, ridiculous way to run an election.  I mean, why even bother?  Why not just rename the damn thing the King County Conservative District, and save the half-hearted effort to pretend this is an election at all?

No vote-by-mail, no neighborhood polling places, no voter’s pamphlet… not even a goddamn postcard reminding you to vote. Only a handful of blog readers and well-informed activists on either side even knew there was an election, as evidenced by the fact that Sollitto got 43.5% of the vote as a write-in candidate, seven times that of third place David Mauk, who was one of only two names on the ballot.

Standing in line behind Richard Pope at the Bellevue Library voting station, a poll-worker chastised me for talking politics in the polling place, warning that I was violating the law—oh God was I tempted to challenge her to call the cops.  In fact, I wasn’t talking about the race at all, but rather, how stupid, fucking ridiculous the entire KCCD election process is.  I mean, only a 0.25% turnout, and there’s a fucking line?

What a total joke.

Comments

  1. 1

    headless lucy spews:

    I hate to say so, but the laxer the county is on enforcing environmental regulations, the easier it becomes to subdivide my land.

    It’s a part of my retirement plan.

    I can’t wait to say to the people in their brand new abode three feet away from my old house:

    “Howdy neighbor! Mind if I build a ten foot fence?”

  2. 2

    Chris Stefan spews:

    Why aren’t elections for the conservation district held at the same time as elections for the King County Council and Executive?

    Could this stupidity be changed with a county charter amendment?

    Personally I think there are only 3 situations that merit having an election at any time other than the yearly primary and general elections.
    1. Special election to fill a vacant elected office.
    2. Special election to fill a newly created office (though this really should wait for the next scheduled election).
    3. Presidential primaries.

  3. 3

    Huh? spews:

    @2 – 100% agree. Why are important votes on such things as school levies and the Conservation District held outside the normal cycle? It is almost like the people staging the election WANT a low turnout. Democracy be damned!

  4. 4

    spews:

    Why is this election not conducted under the “top two” methodology?

    How is it that this one is still based solely on plurality (Drew drew 49.2% of the vote)?

    It’s not like this is a “special election”, as was the Elections Director vote.

    PS. I see from the press release that the turnout for this race was “unprecendented” [sic]. As in extremely high.

  5. 5

    passionatejus spews:

    How did this happen? Why is it like this? I always vote and I missed this one — because I didn’t hear about it until the day after. And I’m an activist.

    WTF!?!

    Seriously!

  6. 6

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    You’ll have a hard time convincing me this election wasn’t rigged. Someone took the ballot boxes home with them. Then, a week later, they tell us their candidate won again. KCD is nothing but a miniature banana republic. Do they shoot nuns, too?

  7. 7

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    I voted at a suburban library where all the voters are granolas. I know for a fact that most of them were voting for the write-in candidate, because I could see them writing on their ballots. But my point is about how the voting procedure was run.

    This election was run by KCD, not KCRE, and “inefficient” barely describes it. There was a little old lady with a laptop computer trying to match voters to some sort of database, and having extreme difficulty doing so. For example, I gave her my voter registration card, but she couldn’t find me in whatever list she was using.

    It took 5 to 10 minutes to process each voter. When I arrived, there were only 3 voters ahead of me, but it took me 20 minutes to get to the head of the line. While I was waiting, more people arrived, and pretty soon the line was 7 or 8 voters deep.

    You know what the KCD people were doing? They were asking the people in line if they wanted to vote a provisional ballot, and telling them they would vote a lot faster if they did. About half said no, but those who agreed were pulled out of line and processed immediately.

    What do you think the chances are those provisional ballots didn’t count?

    This election was total bullshit. It doesn’t mean a thing, not only because of the low number of voters, but because of the mickey mouse way in which it was conducted.

    Someone should ask KCD what they did with the provisional ballots. Better yet, someone should make a public records request to see all the ballots, and count them himself/herself. Let’s find out if Sollito actually won the election but had it snatched away from him by not counting provisionals.

    In my polling place, essentially all of the provisional ballots were cast by voters entitled to cast regular ballots, but were actively induced by the KCD “election workers” to cast provisional ballots. And in my polling place, nearly everyone was voting for the write-in candidate.

    The KCD pooh-bahs will have a hard time convincing me this election wasn’t stolen.

  8. 8

    Chris Stefan spews:

    So the question is can the KCD election process be fixed with a charter amendment or does state law need to be changed?

  9. 9

    spews:

    When I was serving as ranking member of the State Government committee in the House, I asked exactly this same question — WHY do conservation districts get to hold their own elections separate from everybody else, when every other special purpose district (school, fire, hospital, airport, cemetary, mosquito control, you name it) has to have their elections on the same primary/general election cycle as cities and counties?

    The explanation was that state law (RCW 29A.04.410) requires every special purpose district to pay its proportionate share of the cost of conducting an election when it is conducted by the county auditor on the special/primary/general election schedule. Conservation districts generally cover an entire county, but have very small budgets (they are funded not by ad valorem property taxes, but by a flat $5 per lot conservation fee in most counties, $10 per lot in King County), and if they were required to pay for their proportionate share of a county-wide election, it would cost them a significant portion of their annual budget, leaving much less money available for water and soil conservation purposes.

    The legislature could have required conservation districts to conduct their elections at the same time as other special districts but exempted them from paying for their proportionate share (in other words, require the county budget to pay for their elections). But according to the county auditors, this would lead to every other special purpose district asking for a similar exemption in order to save money, blowing a large hole in county elections budgets.

    And so the legislature decided instead (this was many decades ago, not on my watch) to allow the Washington State Conservation Commission to decide for itself how to conduct elections in conservation districts. The WSCC publishes their procedures on their web site, here. The State Conservation Commission pays for the conduct of conservation district elections. The King Conservation District election appears to have been conducted in accordance with state law (RCW 89.08) and the procedures promulgated by the Commission.

    When you boil it down, the county conservation districts are governed as though they were “local chapters” of the state conservation commission, under procedures established by the commission, rather than as independent special purpose districts. The county conservation district commissioners are selected in most cases by the people who use the district’s services (farmers, ranchers, rural landowners) from amongst their own, NOT by the general public, so that some local input is inserted into how the soil and water conservation programs are administered in each county rather than it being entirely driven from the state commission. It is not just in King County that you see low-turnout elections for conservation district elections; it is the same state-wide. The conservation commission and its districts like it this way. I doubt that they like their program or their elections being “hijacked” by either conservative property-rights activists OR by urban environmentalists — or by county executives or county council members trying to steal the district’s funding and redirect it, which is what has prompted all the controversy in King County. They just want your $10 and to be left alone to run their cooperative soil and water conservation programs without the insertion of a lot of ideological bias.

    If anyone doesn’t like any of this, they can go to the legislature to try to get it changed. It’s been tried before, without much success.

    If Mark Sollitto or his supporters think the election was “stolen”, then they can challenge the results by contacting the Washington State Conservation Commission, which is supposed to certify the results at its regular business meeting on May 21, 2009. Also, the King Conservation District is subject to the state Public Records Act like every other agency, and anyone is entitled to submit PRA requests to them to see the records of who voted, the disposition of provisional ballots, etc., just like Stefan Sharkansky submitted to King County Elections for the 2004 governor’s election. If you’re truly concerned about this election outcome, than don’t just post blog comments — do the hard work necessary to prove your case.

  10. 10

    spews:

    @3, Huh? spewed:

    Why are important votes on such things as school levies and the Conservation District held outside the normal cycle? It is almost like the people staging the election WANT a low turnout. Democracy be damned!

    You’re right about that!

    When I was in the legislature, I said repeatedly that I’d support simple majority for school levy votes if the election were held on a primary or general election ballot when turnout was higher, but opposed simple majority so long as those votes were held at low-turnout special elections in February, March, April, or May. The districts claimed that they had to hold those votes as special elections early in the year because they needed to know if their levy passes so they can make offers to teachers for the next school year before the current school year ends. That doesn’t explain why they can’t have the election the preceding November. They really just want to hold their levy votes at special elections because in a low-turnout special election the teachers, school staff, PTA members, and their families will turn out in much larger proportions than the general public, nearly guaranteeing that the levy votes will pass.

    One time I even proposed an amendment that would say a simple majority would be sufficient to pass a levy a special election if at least 15% of registered voters participated in the election, and they wouldn’t even accept that. That right there tells you how much they depend on low turnout at special elections to pass their levies. And sure enough, when they amended the state constitution to enable a simple majority vote to pass a school levy, they also eliminated the “validation” requirement that at least 40% of those who voted in the last general election participate in the special election. You can now pass a school levy if just one voter turns out and votes Yes.

  11. 11

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @10 “The districts claimed that they had to hold those votes as special elections early in the year because they needed to know if their levy passes so they can make offers to teachers for the next school year before the current school year ends.”

    That was a crock. The real reason school districts wanted to hold their levy elections in January or February was so they could resubmit the levy for another vote if they lost. Traditionally, the way school levies worked was that if voters defeated them, they had to keep voting until they passed them.

    This was, of course, only one of the myriad ways in which taxpayers get abused in our state; and these kinds of abuses are what lead to the rise of demagogues like Tim Eyman — who, ironically, is funded by the 4-percenters.

  12. 12

    Richard Pope spews:

    Toby Nixon @ 10

    The districts claimed that they had to hold those votes as special elections early in the year because they needed to know if their levy passes so they can make offers to teachers for the next school year before the current school year ends. That doesn’t explain why they can’t have the election the preceding November.

    I believe there is some legal provision requiring that a special property tax levy election must be held during the calendar year prior to the year in which the property tax will be collected. It may just be a state statute, but it could also be part of the state constitution.

    If the school district has the levy election in, let’s say February (allowing for a second election in April or May if the levy fails), then the district will know the amount of levy to be collected for the next school year, prior to setting the budget for the next school year and prior to sending out individual contracts to hire specific people to teach during the coming school year.

    The levy election cannot be held prior to February, since that would be too early.

    The levy election could theoretically be held in November for the coming calendar year. But by that point, contractual commitments would have been made to the teachers, and the district would be in a world of hurt if there was no more special levy money. And if it failed in November, there would be no chance to hold a second election to try to get a special levy in the coming calendar year.

  13. 13

    spews:

    Toby,

    At one point in whatever cycle do the property owners have an opportunity to approve the $5 or $10 per lot tax that is levied to provide the funding source for the Conservation Districts around the state? Or is this tax not subject to public approval?

    Chad

  14. 15

    Crusader spews:

    BTW, a sure fire recipe for the Democrats to commit political suicide in WA state is to enact just this “high income earners” tax.

  15. 16

    Richard Pope spews:

    There is a good argument that the $10 per parcel King County Conservation District tax violates Article VII, Section 1 of the state constitution, requiring that property taxes be uniform on all real property. Article VII, Section 1 authorizes property taxes only on the basis of market value or acreage.

    In King County, every parcel is assessed $10, regardless of the acreage or market value. There are about 700,000 real estate parcels in King County, resulting in nearly $7 million a year in taxes for the conservation district. (There are a couple of cities in King County that have opted out of the conservation district, and are not taxed at all.)

    Some property owners in Mason County have challenged the conservation district assessment there (which applies to all of Mason County, with the exception of the City of Shelton). In Mason County, the tax is $5 per parcel, resulting in $140,000 or so with 28,000 parcels being affected.

    My understanding is that the Mason County property owners (who are proceeding without an attorney) have won on this issue in superior court, and that the conservation district has appealed this issue to the Court of Appeals.

  16. 17

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    @15: Or, they could continue to enact tepid, but expensive social reforms on the back of a regressive tax system in the midst of a recession, and throw the left wing of the party under the buss.

    Sure fire way to political success, if you ask me. The choice is theirs.

  17. 18

    Mark1 spews:

    ‘a poll-worker chastised me for talking politics in the polling place, warning that I was violating the law—oh God was I tempted to challenge her to call the cops.’

    Sure Goldy, I’m sure the people there oh-so wanted to listen to your screech-owl voice, blithering about nothing like a raving lunatic. I wish you had called the cops. I for one would love to see the YouTube video of the P.D. hauling your scrawny, bald ass out if cuffs, with you all the while shrieking like a whiney little girl. You sure as hell aren’t smart enough to know when to keep your big mouth shut. Jeez!

  18. 19

    Anders spews:

    The reason that all conservation district elections have to be held at such a weird time of the year is that state law requires them to.

    RCW 89.08.190 requires all conservation district elections to be held in “the first quarter of the year.” This is also reinforced by RCW 29(a).04.330.

    Intriguingly, state law also exempts conservation district candidates from having to file with the Public Disclosure Commission. Something I’m sure your KCD conservative friends are taking full advantage of.

    But basically yes, it would take an act of the state legislature to move conservation districts onto the general ballot. This actually almost happened two years ago: the House voted unanimously to approve the bill, and it died in (former) Senator Marilyn Rasmussen’s Ag committee. So, outside of the BIAW cronies in local government, this kind of reform isn’t that particularly offensive to the powers that be. It’s just low on the legislature’s list of priorities right about now.

    Good luck to the progressives who keep fighting for these local seats. And, speaking as a progressive Elected Supervisor on -my- local conservation district, three words to the wise: register register register!

    The office WILL “lose” your paperwork unless you have each page signed and dated by the KCD (keep copies for yourself). Your supporters WILL mysteriously be disqualified en masse. I only won my race last year by registering over 600 voters, and doorbelling/phonebanking the hell out of every registered conservation district voter in the county. And even then, I only won by 41 votes!

    Just pretend you’re running for Congress, or the state legislature. Fight with that level of ferocity and you will beat those sons of bitches.