Politics & Government

It’s election filing week, and more than 200 Pierce County offices are up for grabs

The 2015 elections are months away, but the local election season will officially get into swing when candidate filing week opens at 9 a.m. Monday (May 11). It closes at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Dozens of positions are up for grabs around Pierce County on city and town councils; school, fire, parks and recreation, and water district boards; the Superior Court bench; and the Port of Tacoma commission. There’s even one legislative seat available, for a one-year unexpired House seat in the 30th Legislative District.

A total of 218 offices in Pierce County are on the ballot this year, all to be sorted out when the primary election is held Aug. 4 and the general election Nov. 3.

Former Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma said odd-year local elections without big state or national offices on the ballot tend to draw less attention and have low voter turnout — an “irony of democracy” since local representatives are closest to the people.

He hopes to see a lot of candidates step forward during filing week.

“We don’t want to see our electoral process be taken over by narrow interests. We want broad representation,” said Baarsma, a retired professor of public administration at the University of Puget Sound. “We want people who are thoughtful, committed to public service in the best sense, and willing to get out and campaign.”

By far the largest number of positions are open on the Pierce County Charter Review Commission. A new group is elected at least once every 10 years to study the 1980 home-rule charter — essentially the rulebook of county government — and send proposed amendments to voters the following year.

The county needs to fill all 21 positions on the commission this fall.

“I expect that they will probably all fill up,” county elections manager Mike Rooney said. “They typically have in the past.”

The commission consists of three nonpartisan members from each of the county’s seven council districts. Rooney said that if three or more people from one district file for the same seat, they will contest each other in the primary; otherwise, seats will be decided in the general election.

Members must be residents of Pierce County for the past five years, reside in the council district of the position for which they are filing and be a registered voter.

Members are not paid for their six months of work but are reimbursed for expenses.

The last Charter Review Commission was elected in fall 2005 and served during 2006. It advanced nine amendments to the November 2006 ballot, addressing private property rights, the scope of the county executive’s power and how many signatures are needed to put an initiative or referendum on the ballot.

Officials last considered seating a Charter Review Commission in 2013, but decided to hold off to prevent confusion with Tacoma’s charter review process that year. Under the 10-year rule, the county must have a commission review the charter by this year.