Did SKSD Voters Boycott Pointless Primary?

As noted in today’s Kitsap Sun editorial, voter turnout throughout Kitsap County in Tuesday’s primary was a “deplorable” 22 percent. Kitsap County elections manager Dolores Gilmore said the turnout was comparable to off-year elections in the early 1990s, before all-mail balloting.

Voter turnout in South Kitsap was even lower, but was it apathy or something else? With 39,199 registered voters eligible to vote in the South Kitsap School District race for the district 3 position, only 5,385 ballots were counted as of the close of business at the auditor’s office on election day. That’s up to 6,023 today, still a scanty 15 percent.

Is it possible South Kitsap voters were boycotting what amounted to a straw poll? Current unofficial results show incumbent Naomi Polen, with 31.73 percent of the vote, trailing challenger Chris Lemke, a former board member, with 45.03 percent. A second challenger, Gail F. Porter, is ineligible to serve because she moved out of the director district after filing. According to the Kitsap County auditor’s office, the deadline to withdraw had passed by the time Porter made the move known. Porter’s name, therefore, appeared on the ballot, and she received 19.06 percent of the vote. Now, there’s nearly 20 percent of the 39,199 who are either in denial or not in tune with local media. As the editorial notes, we ran a story on the issue.

The hey of it is, the primary, results of which carry no weight, will cost South Kitsap School District an estimated $70,000. Before the election, I checked with Dolores Gilmore to see if the district would save any money if people did in fact boycott the primary. Dolores said no; most of the cost associated with the primary is incurred in preparation and distribution of ballots.

Based on turnout numbers in the South Kitsap race, however, one might guess some people made that assumption and shredded their ballots. Either that or SKSD voters are in a complacent slump.

There’s been considerable discussion on the blog entry post posted the day of the primary about Porter’s ineligibility and its implications for South Kitsap School District. I’ll respond to a few points made.

Bob Meadows pointed out that there are essentially two deadlines for withdrawal from a race. The candidate can withdraw up to the Thursday following filing week without having to give any reason. Secondly, the candidate can withdraw beyond that date at the election official’s (auditor’s office) discretion up to the day the ballots are ordered. I checked with Dolores Gilmore. The ballots were ordered June 15. According to Gilmore, she did not learn of Porter’s ineligibility to serve until Aug. June 18, when Porter came in to change her voter registration address.

School Board member Kathryn Simpson (in comments on the previous blog post and elsewhere) has given a different accounting of who knew what, when. I invited Dolores to respond to Kathryn’s statements, and Dolores declined, saying it was the formal position of the auditor’s office not to engage in discussion on the blog regarding this issue. In short, she had no comment. South Kitsap School District is pursuing legal advice on whether there is any way to mitigate the amount is has to pay for the primary. Stay tuned.

Finally, Bob Meadows notes that Porter would be eligible to serve if, hypothetically, she were to move back into district 3. Bob suggested that the nearly 20 percent of voters who favored Porter may have been encouraging her to do so. Porter would be eligible to serve under those hypothetical circumstances if she were still in the race. But that’s a moot point now, because she still got the fewest votes in the primary.

South Kitsap’s situation is a cautionary tale for both school districts – who are liable to incur the cost of elections even in the rare instances like this when they turn into straw polls – and candidates – who set in motion the wheels of elections law when they file for office.

Let it be said here that school board candidates probably aren’t in it for the money. SKSD board policy based on state law allows board members a stipend of $50 per meeting, but, according to district spokeswoman Aimee Warthen, not all claim compensation. They are paid for travel expenses to conferences (not in glamorous locales – unless you consider Spokane glamorous). The position requires hours of reading dry materials laden with edu-speak and sitting through meetings that are typically well attended (or attended at all) only when constituents are angry about something.

Given the above, the district ostensibly should be grateful for anyone willing to run. Regardless, potential candidates should be fully informed of the responsibility of the position and the financial implications to the district.

For the record, I became aware on July 1 that Porter had moved out of district 3 and did not act on it until late in July (my story ran July 28). Technically, acting on the information sooner would not have made any difference because the deadline had already passed. But it’s been a cautionary tale for me. And believe me, if a similar situation arises in the future, I won’t put it on the back burner.

31 thoughts on “Did SKSD Voters Boycott Pointless Primary?

  1. My husband and I always vote but didn’t this time because our vote would have been irrelevant. Why spend the stamp and waste the resources of the County if the election was not necessary. I know of several other people who also chose not to vote for the same reasons. By the way, I would have voted for Naomi Polen.

  2. It is a cautionary tale for more than just school districts. This same sort of situation could occur in any jurisdiction that depends on the Auditor’s office for elections. When the Auditor’s office makes a mistake, are those costs to be born by the Auditor’s office or the jurisdictions they serve?

    While I can appreciate the Auditor’s office not wanting to engage on the blogs, I can’t understand why they wouldn’t want to respond to the substance of my comments. Are the concerns different because they were articulated in a blog? If I were to call Chris and articulate the same thing, and then Chris asked the Auditor’s office to respond to our conversation then how would that be different? My comments are and always have been signed.

    I sincerely appreciate all that the Auditor’s office does. I also appreciate that, in any organization, sometimes mistakes are made. SKSD is paying a very heavy financial price for a mistake that was not of our doing and that I went to the trouble of trying to avoid by calling the Auditor’s office on June 8th. The only reason I did not challenge Ms. Porter’s candidacy on June 12th was because of the information Ms. Gilmore gave to me on June 8th.

    Fortunately, the most important issue (the non-financial issue) regarding a fair election worked itself out so that the two eligible candidates advance.

    But what remains is a $70,000 hit to SKSD for a needless election. That is a seasoned teacher’s salaries and benefits for a year. In the current economic times, that is an especially hard hit for something that wasn’t needed.

    Kathryn Simpson

  3. Thanks, Kathryn, for everything you do for the community and for your continued attempts to try and explain this situation to the public.

    I find the people most derisive of the blog community are the people who disseminate and control information.

    I think Mr. Bozeman gets it as well. He addressed the inaudible work study complaint swiftly and publicly.

    Your willingness to engage shows a respect for the people you represent and for the process. Much appreciated.

  4. My suggestion about encouraging Porter to move back into the director district was made in jest. I suppose I should put a “smiley face” at the end of such things, since my dry humor doesn’t apparently come across as humorous most of the time. Maybe I need to work on my timing. 🙂

    I voted in the primary even though that could cause the cost to go up, since I found only one way to get Porter’s name off the general election ballot had she been in the top two — an election contest in court. (The total cost that is shared by participating jurisdictions is increased by the need to canvass the ballots, whether that is the majority of the total cost or not.)

    I noticed that the article about the SNAFU in the Belfair Water District said the ineligible candidate’s votes wouldn’t matter and the eligible candidates’ names would automatically move on to the general election ballot.
    “Mike Pope and longtime Commissioner Irene Werdall also filed for the Pos. 1 spot on the three-member board. Pope and Werdall will advance automatically to November’s general election.”
    “State law allows her to count and record the votes for Waggett, which she plans to do, although election certification will show he’s ineligible.”

    I can find no law that gives the county auditor the authority to do that. She isn’t just “allowed” to count them–she is required to count them. She has no apparent authority to disqualify someone who ends up in the top two, even when that person is clearly ineligible. Nor is there any apparent authority to allow that person to withdraw after the primary and before the general election when his ineligibility is obvious and undisputed.

    Instead, RCW 29A.36.180 says it takes a court ruling to declare the candidate disqualified.

    If that is true–that it takes a court decision to disqualify an ineligible candidate and remove his or her name from the ballot once the deadline for withdrawing passes–then the law needs to be changed. When there is no dispute about the facts and the law pertaining to eligibility to assume office, there should be no requirement to go to court to get a ruling to disqualify the candidate.

    Now, how can we find out if it’s true? Should we ask the people in the auditors’ offices who are paid to know the elections laws? 😉

  5. Ditto to what Karen said. Thanks Kathryn.

    Kitsap Auditors Office, please provide a full and complete statement on what happened and what will be done to safeguard against a similar incident occuring in the future.

    Thank you.

  6. I for one decided that voting in a superfluous school district primary was not worth the cost of a 44-cent stamp. It was not a “boycott” per se, just a cost-benefit decision.

  7. Thanks for the kind words, Karen and Colleen. 🙂

    Thanks for being spot on with the humor and the RCWs, Bob. 😉

    As for Jerry, thanks for saving a stamp. I voted, but didn’t waste a stamp. I love dropping my ballot off personally, so I try and make a habit of putting it in the ballot drop off slot at the County Admin Building.

    Kathryn Simpson

  8. Good going beating up on Dolores Gilmore in the paper, Kathryn. Let’s see how far you will take painting her as an incompetent and a liar.

  9. Interesting take on the events, Mary.

    I detailed my conversation with a county employee. In fact, I documented the salient point of that conversation long before it became controversial (for an example, see the July 2nd post on my personal blog at kjsimpson.blogspot.com). Ms. Gilmore has now denied having that conversation and offers “no comment” beyond that. I have responded that I stand by what I have previously said.

    You interpret this as me calling Ms. Gilmore “an incompetent and a liar”. Such is your right. But your interpretation doesn’t change facts. I didn’t single out Ms. Gilmore to throw stones at a random person at the Auditor’s office. I am only identifying her because she was the individual I spoke with on this issue. If a citizen had an issue with the school district and it was over something they claimed I said, I would expect to be identified as that source of information. That is being accountable and responsible for my words. I think I have a pretty good record for being responsible and accountable.

    For the record, I consider Ms. Gilmore a competent professional. But, neither she, I, nor anyone on this planet is perfect. Ms. Gilmore has given years of public service and is a subject matter expert in elections. Honest mistakes happen. Who pays for those honest mistakes is the issue here.

    My first concern was a fair election. Thankfully, that has worked itself out. My second concern is the financial impact of the mistake on the school district and the precedence this sets for SKSD and other jurisdictions having to pay costs for elections when we rely on the Kitsap County Auditor’s office for the elections process and the information they provide to us.

    If a mistake is made by a jurisdiction, the auditor’s office should rightfully charge that jurisdiction for associated additional costs (example is the Belfair water jurisdiction issue in Mason County). If a mistake is made by the auditor’s office, I think those jurisdictions should be able to expect reciprocol accountability from the auditor’s office and the auditor’s office would absorb the cost of their own mistake.

    Kathryn Simpson

  10. Mary, you are the one showing the most spite here.

    You asked this of Kathryn regarding comments to Deloras Gilmore…

    “Let’s see how far you will take painting her as an incompetent and a liar.”

    Now I am applying it to your own comments to Kathryn and asking you….

    “Let’s see how far you will take painting her as an incompetent and a liar.”

    Just checking.

  11. A comment was made that the $70,000 is equivalent to the cost of a teacher’s salary plus benefits. Well, that same $70,000 taken from the County’s coffers eliminates a nurse (or maybe two) who serves with the Health District in the capacity of a First Steps or home care nurse who checks on, teaches and aids young and new mothers in caring for their infants. These nurses teach the young mothers how to breastfeed, bond and otherwise nurture their infants.

    The most important windows of opportunity in brain development occur when a child is a toddler to preschooler. Ages 0-3.

    In the long run prevention costs much less than mitigation. The work of these nurses amounts to prevention – preventing the necessary mitigation that must occur if this window of opportunity is missed and it shuts forever. Mitigation to address the missed learning opportunities in the form of special education costs significantly more and is less effective, if effective at all.

    Prevention trumps mitigation. Always.

    Hence the need for the nurses trumps the need for the teacher.

    Thus, in my reasoning the $70,000 serves a greater purpose and a wider audience by remaining with the County and not the school district.

    I stand by what I say regarding Ms. Simpson’s carefully chosen words that painted Ms. Gilmore as a liar and an incompetent. She can say that she acted in the best interest of the district. You can’t argue that, but it’s not hard to miss the real intent here.

    As far as painting Kathryn as an incompetent and a liar, I would have to say that Kathryn is very competent in painting Ms. Gilmore as an incompetent and a liar.

    It’s just unfortunate that fewer people recognize Ms. Simpson’s overused skill.

    Mary Colborn

  12. RV,

    If Ms. Porter wasn’t eligible and that had been established before the ballots were ordered, then the primary wouldn’t have been necessary and the $70,000 cost to run the election could have been avoided.

    Kathryn Simpson

  13. Following your logic, Mary, it doesn’t matter who made the mistake because the county needs the money for a nurse more than the school district needs the money for a teacher.

    So, the next time you get in a car accident it won’t matter if you were at fault or the other person was at fault. The person who needs the money the least will pay for the damages?

    As for my carefully choosing my words, I will own up to that. I choose my words carefully so that I can speak the truth and be responsible at the same time. You consider that a fault. I consider it being a decent and principled human being.

    Kathryn Simpson

  14. The two situations in Kitsap and Mason counties present an interesting illustration of how the state election laws may need to be revised to give the Auditor the authority and obligation to act and avoid an unnecessary primary election and avoid having an ineligible candidate’s name appear on the general election ballot.

    In Kitsap County, only Porter could have prevented the unnecessary primary election by withdrawing her declaration of candidacy. She was eligible at the time of filing as a candidate, and that’s all the law requires for her name to appear on the ballot. The Auditor had no authority to exclude her from the ballot because of a subsequent move out of the director district.

    For this case, it was critical to communicate with Porter before it became impossible to withdraw, that is, before the ballots were ordered. If Porter had no desire or intention to move back into the director district before the general election, she would have been ineligible to assume office if elected in November. Under the circumstances, it seems obvious she would have withdrawn; but someone needed to explain things to her before the primary election ballots were ordered.

    In Mason County, the Belfair water district had a different situation.

    A candidate was not eligible at the time he filed his declaration of candidacy, but no one knew because of amazing negligence over a period of decades by the water district commissioners. The actual boundaries of the water district were never correctly shown on the map used by everyone including the Auditor. He lived outside the actual boundaries but inside the boundaries shown on the map.

    In that case, he never was eligible to be a candidate and appear on the ballot, so the Auditor had an obligation to “review…regarding compliance” and keep his name off the ballot.

    Having discovered this mistake only days before the primary election, what can the Auditor now do prior to the general election? Can the Auditor do now what should have been done then? Can the Auditor exclude the name from the ballot and put the other two candidates’ names on the general election ballot even though the ineligible candidate was in the top two in the primary election?

    So far as I can tell, the statutes don’t clearly indicate that the Auditor can do anything, other than to say in RCW 29A.20.021: “The name of a candidate for an office shall not appear on a ballot for that office unless, except as provided in RCW *3.46.067 and 3.50.057, the candidate is, at the time the candidate’s declaration of candidacy is filed, properly registered to vote in the geographic area represented by the office…. The officer with whom declarations of candidacy must be filed under this title shall review each such declaration filed regarding compliance with this subsection.”

    If the “shall not appear” is a command, does it fairly imply the authority to do now what should have been done then? If it does, then perhaps the statute that specifically applies to the situation isn’t the only way to solve the problem in Mason County. RCW 29A.36.180 allows the Auditor to put the two eligible candidates’ names on the general election ballot even when the ineligible candidate is in the top two in the primary–but only if a court of competent jurisdiction disqualifies the ineligible candidate.

    Since Mason County plans to put the two eligible candidates’ names on the general election ballot despite the ineligible candidate’s finish in the top two in the primary, it would be interesting to know their rationale. So, I asked them to tell me what law authorizes what they plan to do. I couldn’t resist.

  15. Actually, I didn’t make that argument, Kathryn, you did. I just used your argument to say mention that if a loss of $70,000 from SKSD’s coffers represents one teacher’s salary, it also represents the salary of at least one (possibly two) home health care nurses.

    I stand by my assertion that you use your “carefully chosen” words to apply blame to others.

    The real issue here is that the school district has, something like, a $6.8 million deficit. Deflecting that problem onto others takes time and energy away from addressing it.

    I would suggest that the board get busy addressing how to balance the budget and deal with its shortcomings. I would further suggest that the salaries of the overpaid administrative employess – David LaRose, Greg Roberts, deans, etc., who make well OVER $100,000/year, a significant difference from the average South Kitsap resident, be cut. In doing so, a valuable teacher doesn’t have to be eliminated.

  16. It is amazing to me, Mary, how your words are in print and yet you won’t own them…

    Mary said:
    “Thus, in my reasoning the $70,000 serves a greater purpose and a wider audience by remaining with the County and not the school district.”

    So, as I said before, it appears that it doesn’t matter to you who made the mistake. You asserted that the county needs the money more, so the district should pay. Good luck with that argument if you ever cause an accident and are the less wealthy party.

    As for your suggestion that the ‘board get busy addressing how to balance the budget…”, perhaps you ought to catch up, Mary. The SKSD School Board and Staff have been working with the challenges of this year’s budget for more than a year. We anticipated problems early on, long before the legislature even began addressing their budget problems in January, we were busy preparing for the worst and working for the best.

    In fact, just last Wednesday, we reviewed and approved the 2009-2010 budget. There have been two public hearings on the proposed budget in the last two months. I’m sorry you missed them, Mary. After months and months of hard work to make adjustments as far away from the classroom as possible, I am very proud of the effort that went into a responsible budget that protects student achievement priorities despite substantial cuts in funding.

    In fact, with the 2009-2010 budget approved this month, we have already started the process of looking at 2010-2011; which will be even more challenging. And, by the way, I have already had several discussions with our elected legislators about the upcoming budget issues for K-12 education. Not to mention several work sessions I have participated in on this issue outside of regular school board meetings. So, thanks for your interest, Mary. Has that caught you up a bit?

    I’m intentionally ignoring your slap at staff over salaries. An educated person would have looked at where our staff falls on OSPI’s list of administrative salaries and known better than to try and pick that battle.

    As for suggesting that I am deflecting blame, please tell me what ‘blame’ the school district or I should take for the primary election? Where did we go wrong? What didn’t we do that we should have done? There is no blame for SKSD to deflect.

    Further, I’m not interested in a blame game with the Auditor’s office. I simply expect accountability and an effort to make a mistake right as much as possible. They are the subject matter experts in election laws. SKSD and every other jurisdiction in Kitsap County that has elections depends on them.

    Kathryn Simpson

  17. Mary,

    I can tell you straight out, that after recently gone through a Superintendent selection process, in the Bremerton School District, that it is the availability of talent and supply and demand of that said talent is what determine the price paid for their salary.

    Also the school district is reimbursed by the State of Washington $54K for administrators salaries. So it is the difference that is paid out of pocket by the district. It is the Federal and State legislation that controls at least 80% of the school district budgets in Kitsap County. That means 80% out of the control of parents, educators and yes, even school board members like Kathryn. The budget shortfalls, currently being felt by the majority of Kitsap School Districts is due to funding sources drying up at the Federal and State level. Once again decisions that are completely out of the control of the district and the school board. As far as “getting busy”, up until a few months ago the final numbers indicating the amount of shortfalls from I-728 and Levy Equalizations had not even been fully released or still have not been released by the State of Washington to the School Districts. While sitting on the Citizens Finance Committee for Bremerton, we had to assume and try to guess or predict at least (3) different worse case scenarios and have tentative plans in place to deal with each of them. We still do not know what the Final one will be.

    Here is a homework assignment for you Mary, since school districts are paid by the State of Washington, except for the Levy money which is voter approved, I would very much like to see the clear documented Kitsap County budget policy that dictates the $70k to pay for this election will be removed directly from Health District budget, then given to the State of Washington, then paid to the South Kitsap School District, then spent on a South Kitsap teacher salary. Being able to read that policy directly would be very interesting to me. Could you please post the link to that published policy here? I would love to bring this evidence to light at my next Citizens Finance Meeting, so that Bremerton can have a discussion about this as well.

    FYI, If you want to post “I hate Kathryn”, then post “I hate Kathryn” instead of hiding that implication behind carefully chosen words on education issues that you are just using as a vehicle to strike out personally at Kathryn at every opportunity. Mean what you say and say what you mean.

  18. That makes no sense at all. Why would $70,000 be removed from the Kitsap County budget and paid to the school district? From what I understand, the school district is required to pay the $70,000. The issue in question, Colleen, is whether the district should foot the bill or the County.

    If you wish to stick up for Kathryn, by all means do so. It is your right. I stand by my beliefs that Kathryn is deflecting the blame for the district’s budget problems.

  19. I don’t need anymore homework, Colleen. I already have a Masters in Education. I have an extensive background in curriculum development, as well as hands on work.

    Once again, I reiterate, however, that the best development we could see would be to invest less in administrative positions and more in recognizing the role that parents play in brain development. I believe the key is to invest in parent education programs.

    Once again, I reiterate, prevention trumps mitigation. You are advocating more mitigation. I suggest more preventative measures.

  20. The topic of Chris’s blog posting was the election issue.

    If you really want to address the issue of “deflecting”, then let’s talk about why you have the need to deflect the away from the topic of the election to change the conversation to attacking the school district on ‘overpaid administrators’, the role of ‘prevention versus mitigation’, and ‘parent education programs’.

    Frankly, I think it is because you already conceded that I acted appropriately…

    Mary said (in comment #13):
    “She can say that she acted in the best interest of the district. You can’t argue that…”

    So, getting back on topic so as not to appear to be deflecting anything. Thank you for acknowledging that I acted in the best interest of the school district, Mary. I’ve explained myself quite thoroughly on the election issue. I stand behind what I did, what I said, and how I said it.

    Intellectually, deflection is an attempt to avoid the real issue of discussion. Since you conceded, early on, that I acted appropriately, I really don’t see the need for further indulgence of your attacks on matters not germane to the election issue.

    Have a great day!

    Kathryn Simpson

  21. “I don’t need any more homework, Colleen. I already have a Masters in Education. I have an extensive background in curriculum development, as well as hands on work.”

    Whew! Thanks for pointing out that you think there is a level where a person can actually proudly boast about refusing to learn anything new.

    “I stand by my beliefs that Kathryn is deflecting the blame for the district’s budget problems”.

    Please say specifically how Kathryn is doing this and who she is blaming. Please outline specific items you are questioning on the F-195 and F-196 District Financial Reports as well as posting the corresponding excerpts from District Minutes indicating that specific votes cast by specific board members indicate gross negligence when it comes to the allocation of finances.
    Please excuse my rough speech. I do not have a Masters n Education. But what I do have is a significant amount of time on the job dealing with corporate level multi-million dollar budgets, projections of revenue, and cash flow and experience helping to find and reduce expenditures. So I am very interested in receiving the details, yes specific DETAILS Mary, on what your detailed analysis on the district budgets are and recommendations for solutions.

  22. After all, you have a Masters in Education, so my request should be a piece of cake for you to accomplish in no time at all.

  23. Colleen,I have never read anything positive from you, unless you are praising Kathryn. I found this on the New York Times website and it fits: “says Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic. “The Internet is like closing time at a blue-collar bar in Boston. Everyone’s drunk and ugly and they’re going to pass out in a few minutes.””

    Delilah expressed it to me differently, but similarly when she said that the problem with getting in the mud with the pigs is that you get dirty and the pigs like it too much.

    That’s how I always feel when I read and respond to your blogs. You may actually be a decent person in some areas of your life, but what I see on the blogs makes me think otherwise.

    So, no, I will not be continuing an e-mail conversation with you. I wasn’t speaking to you in the first place.

    I stand by my assertions on Kathryn’s need to deflect from the real budgetary problems facing the district and her need to deflame others to serve her aims.

    Enough said.

  24. I’m coming in late to this discussion, but I find the preliminary results of this primary VERY interesting–especially considering the District 3 selection process that occured last year and the comments made at that meeting by current sitting school board members regarding all of the people who had applied for the “job” (myself included).

    Makes me kinda wish I had run . . . .

    Gayle Dilling

  25. Thank you Mary for FINALLY proving to everyone here that you are not capable of supporting your accusations about Kathryn’s performance as a School Board Director with any specific data or specific decision examples on her part that would in any way indicate gross incompetence in her voting record or leadership.

    Any subsequent comments from you on this topic will continue to just be viewed and dismissed by the majority as the hollow unfounded accusations that they are.

    Nothing positive, you say. I dare you to head over to all of the stories currently happening regarding the Central Kitsap Levy proposal and read what I have posted there.

    “You may actually be a decent person in some areas of your life, but what I see on the blogs makes me think otherwise.”

    Right back at you babe. You took the words right out of my mouth.

  26. If Ms. Porter wasn’t eligible and that had been established before the ballots were ordered, then the primary wouldn’t have been necessary and the $70,000 cost to run the election could have been avoided.

    My link was in reference to Ms. Hill from Central Kitsap School Board. I’m already aware of the dynamics surrounding the SK issue.

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