Proposal to shift Pierce County elections to odd-numbered years fails

Staff writerJuly 31, 2013 

An effort to move county elections to odd-numbered years has failed to garner enough support from the Pierce County Council, stopping the proposed charter amendment from moving to voters in November.

The council voted 4-3 Tuesday in favor of the proposal, one vote short of a supermajority. The amendment needed a “yes” vote from five of the seven council members to advance to the general election.

Councilman Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, proposed the change to reduce crowding on ballots during even-numbered years when local elections can be overshadowed by state or national races, as seen in last year’s presidential election.

The proposal was an attempt to promote more visibility for county candidates — including county executive, assessor-treasurer and council members — by moving them to the odd-numbered election cycle, such as this year’s election that has mostly municipal races.

Councilman Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma, voted against the proposal, as did Stan Flemming, R-University Place, and Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma.

Talbert said his primary concern was a “misuse” of the charter amendment process. “My vote wasn’t necessarily on the merits of the issue,” he said.

Talbert would prefer to see a full vetting by the next charter review commission, which is scheduled to be elected in 2015 and put proposals on the ballot in 2016. A commission is seated every 10 years.

The commission is made up of elected citizens, and Talbert said several months of discussion surround any issue up for review.

“By the time any amendments have gone through that (commission) process and put before the voters, there has been a lot of dialogue,” he said.

Those who opposed Richardson’s proposal also argued the change would cost too much. It would increase the cost of elections in odd-numbered years by about $475,000, said County Auditor Julie Anderson.

However, Anderson supported the proposal because she said it would better balance the number of items between even- and odd-numbered years.

Flemming said he isn’t opposed to an election-cycle change, but now is the wrong time to spend money on it because funds are unavailable for basic needs.

“It is a hard justification for the public that we can find money to spend on (elections) but we can’t find money to service our most vulnerable citizens,” Flemming said.

Richardson said changing the election cycle would save the county from having to print two-card ballots, a scenario that would cost an extra $360,000. He said this is likely to occur before the next charter review commission completes its work.

“I’m just a little disappointed,” Richardson said of Tuesday’s vote. He said the Auditor’s support of his proposal was instructive.

“When the council has a person responsible for elections who says that this would be a really good idea, I’m confused why we wouldn’t put that forward to voters,” he said.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682

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