Blame Washington state's money problems, but voters won't get a copy of the state elections pamphlet in the mail for the Aug. 17 primary election this year.
Secretary of State Sam Reed has long favored having the pamphlet, but the only time state lawmakers ever funded one was in 2008 – the year Washington switched over to a “top two” primary election format. At least three counties, including Thurston and Pierce, print primary guides for local races.
“We’ve only done one ever,” spokesman David Ammons of the Office of the Secretary of State said Thursday of the statewide printed guides for primaries. “The Legislature appropriated money in 2008, because we were having a brand-new style of primary.”
What it means is that after candidate filing week wraps up today, primary-election voters will have to rely on Reed’s online voters guide, newspapers, television, websites, blogs, candidate fliers and candidate forums to learn about candidates’ positions and background. Other sources of information include the televised candidate guide on the TVW public-affairs network.
State Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, said he had hoped the state would be able to continue with the funding after the 2008 pamphlet. But state budget realities got in the way.
The printed pamphlet cost about $1.3 million for the 2008 primary, and state elections officials did not even ask for the funds this year during the time of a budget crisis, assistant state elections director Shane Hamlin said.
Even so, Hamlin said the elections agency has budgeted $1 million for a Nov. 2 general election guide, which is to be mailed to more than 3 million households in October. And it plans an electronic voter guide that will include candidates for judicial races, according to Wendy Ferrell of the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
Having the primary guide might be more important in judicial races, because those are typically decided in the primary.
Roy Olson, an Olympia-based Green Party candidate for Congress in the 9th district against Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, says state officials and legislators made the wrong decision, and he thinks a primary guide with all the candidates’ names would be more valuable to voters than a general-election guide.
He even suggested printing a primary guide, then asking voters to keep it for the general election, too.
“When I make my decision, I go to the voters pamphlet and compare it to my ballot. Maybe other people do it another way. But looking for information on the Internet is not the way,” Olson said Thursday. “To me, the voters pamphlet means more than all the commercial advertising you can put out.”
Olson also said state lawmakers had a conflict of interest in not funding the guide, because not having a guide favors incumbents. Olson and two Pierce County Republicans, Dick Muri and James Postma, are challenging Smith, who already has a huge financial advantage.
The League of Women Voters of Washington has long championed having a printed primary-elections guide for state elections.
“It is a good piece of paper that everybody has the ability to get. I still think there are a lot of voters out there that don’t use online sources,” said Kim Abel, the league’s first vice president, of Port Orchard.
“It is a tough one. I know we are in a budget crunch,” Abel added. “(But) choices at elections make the difference for the future. If you don’t have the opportunity to know all the choices, it’s too bad.”
Budget woes or not, Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman’s office is going ahead with a primary pamphlet this year for county races. So will King and Pierce counties, according to Hamlin of the Secretary of State’s office.
The guides in Thurston and King will include candidates for local legislative races, he said.
Thurston’s guide is being put together in-house to hold down costs, which are estimated at about $15,000 to $16,000 for printing and postage, according to Ken Raske, Thurston County’s chief deputy auditor. Thurston County – and virtually all counties – also will have an online guide.
“I think it’s safe to say every county will have an online voting guide,” Hamlin said.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog