Minute Portion of Eligible Voters Determine Election
by Barbara Perry
Barbara Perry has lived in the Happy Valley neighborhood since 1973. She graduated from WWU in 1985, and has taught English composition and literature at Northwest Indian College, Whatcom Community College, WWU and University of Washington. She is currently retired.
by Barbara Perry
Recently many Whatcom County democrats were sent an email saying that if they wanted to vote for the District Supervisor for the Whatcom Conservation District (WCD), they needed to request a ballot by email or go to the office in Lynden.
I became concerned. Why would registered voters need to request ballots? Why was there a special election in our supposedly free country? Who was manipulating our voting? What was the Whatcom Conservation District? What power did they have?
Closer to election day, another email message was sent out reading:
Action alert!! Must vote today — all Whatcom voters eligibile please go in person if you can — it is very important
There is a vacant position on the Whatcom Farm Conservation District Board. There are two candidates running for the position.
1. Candidate Jayne Uerling supports liberal/progressive farm interests.
2. Candidate Larry Helm is a member of the Whatcom County CAPR [Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights], who owns a 20-acre farm.
County Auditor in the Dark
Sending an email to Debbi Adelstein, Whatcom County Auditor, I questioned her about this special election. My concern started mounting when she said she had just discovered this election and she would have to inquire about it, as she did not know anything.
Several days passed, and since I saw or heard nothing, I found a web page for the Whatcom Conservation District that had a phone number for the Executive Director, George Boggs, hired in the spring of 1987.
He graciously explained the election and answered the questions I asked. He stated his surprise at the number of people voting because there were not usually so many citizens interested. He said there were often under 50 people who voted.
Mr. Boggs attributed voters’ interest to the League of Women Voters who raised the profile of the District and its election process. Shortly after he and staff made presentations to League members, the Whatcom Democrats newsletter came out endorsing Janyne Uerling and urging votes for her.
Continuing, Mr. Boggs explained that the WCD activities are mostly funded by grants. Running an election is not a grant eligible cost.
The auditor did check the previous cost for WCD on a major ballot in 2001 and found the cost to be $20,440. Even that sum was much higher than the cost of mailing ballots, which was probably less than $2,000.
The District holds an election every year. WCD simply could not afford the higher cost. The budget for 2011-12 is just over $1,055,000.
WCD recruits Election Officers from people they know .... ,” said Mr. Boggs. Jim Fox, an election observer trained by the Auditor monitored the entire election process. Larry Helm expressed confidence in Mr. Fox’s neutrality and his conclusions that the balloting and counting was fair and impartial.
Notice of the election was printed in The Bellingham Herald pursuant to Washington Conservation Commission regulations, but when people called wondering why they did not know about the election, notification was again given in The Bellingham Herald and The Lynden Tribune.
In the future, Cascadia Weekly and Whatcom Watch will also be notified, according to Mr. Boggs.
Registered voters desiring to vote needed to have requested a ballot by email or have gone to the Lynden office. An application for a ballot had to be received by February 14, 2012, and the completed ballot had to be received by March 13, 2012, 6:00 p.m.
To find full information see http://www.whatcomcd.org/node/114
The voters who appeared at the Lynden office totaled 516 voters. Ten ballots were disqualified. Larry Helm received 441 votes and Jayne Uerling received 65. There were 927 mail-in votes. Some were late or mailed incorrectly, so 856 votes were recognized and 71 votes were not.
Larry Helm received 713 total votes (52 percent). Jayne Uerling received 649 votes (48 percent). Another way to look at this is of the 117,066 registered voters in Whatcom County, .006 voted for Helm and .0055 voted for Uerling.
Few voters voted in this election. This supposedly non-partisan position became quite partisan which suggests it is a powerful position. A conservative was elected in this county of mainly more liberal voters. For all these reasons, it will be well for voters to watch for changes and policies within WCD, one of our main land steward groups.