Request for State Review of Conservation District Election
by Barbara Perry
Most Americans expect elections to be legitimate, and questions persist about the recent Whatcom Conservation District election.
Joy Monjure, the candidate running against Larry Helm for the 2015 board position of WCD, wrote a letter to the state Conservation Commission asking for a full review of the local district’s election procedure — an amended letter on right, the full letter can be read on the Watch’s website.
Monjure said she is concerned about several things about the election, and posed questions.
What about the 230 still unopened ballots sitting in the WCD office? If voters coming into the WCD office were checked on the voters’ registrar, why then weren’t the mail-in voters all checked before ballots were sent out? The mail-in ballots had to have attestation statements to be legitimate, but why then did WCD home ballots not require attestation statements to be counted?
In a phone interview, Ms. Monjure said that if those ballots were opened, she could be the winner.1
Monjure lives in the county and went to the district office to vote on March 10. While there, neither she nor any other voters she witnessed were asked to verify that they were Whatcom County registered voters; nor were they asked to sign an attestation statement nor had their signature verified as a Whatcom County registered voter list.2 However, all people sending in a mail-in ballot were asked to sign an attestation statement verifying they are Whatcom County registered voters. Apparently it was easier for a voter in the county to have their vote counted than it was for someone living in the city mailing in a ballot.
Another issue was that some voters requesting mail-in ballots received no ballot at all because they were not found on a voter registration list; however, county voters did not have to prove they were registered or on a list. Other concerns abound, many identified in the Whatcom Watch April article.
Many citizens wrote to Bill Eller about their concerns. [Please do not confuse Bill Eller with the Whatcom Conservation District board member, Larry Eller.] Bill Eller, an attorney, works for the Washington State Conservation District and helped design the WCD election procedure.3
On April 16, I called Mark Clark, the state’s Conservation Commission executive director, about Monjure’s letter. He said he had turned the election letters and emails about the election all over to Bill Eller. Mr. Clark said so many citizens wrote about their concerns that Eller may not be able to read them all and decide upon any immediate, definite action. Most likely, there will be a meeting in July in Ellensburg to make a final decision. Citizens must check the WCD site for as yet unknown specifics.
Please read on for Ms. Monjure’s letter:
1. Phone conversation with Joy Monjure 4-16-15
3. Phone conversation with Mark Clark on 4-16-15
Letter from Joy Monjure to Executive Director of the Washington Conservation Commission
April 7, 2015
Mark Clark, Executive Director
Clinton O’Keefe, Chair
Washington Conservation Commission
300 Desmond Drive, SE
Lacey, Washington 98503
Dear Mr. Clark and Mr. O’Keefe,
Please accept this letter as a formal appeal of the results of the recent Whatcom Conservation District (WCD) Supervisor’s election and a request that the Commission count all of the votes that clearly reflect the intent of the voter.
I want to make it clear that the staff and volunteers of the WCD conducted this election with the utmost good faith and followed all of the rules as they understood them. However, as you are aware, the election process is unique and somewhat complicated. I know that the Washington Conservation Commission is in the process of reviewing their election process and that changes will likely be recommended that, if in place for this election, could have changed the outcome significantly.
Historically there has been little awareness of the election, or of the District, resulting in a very low turnout, often fewer than 30 votes being cast in Whatcom County. In the 2012 WCD election, one of the candidates was not a local farmer, and the other was my opponent in this election. That year, as in this one, there was a greater effort to get out the vote made by supporters of both candidates. The winner won by 67 votes out of 1,443 cast. In the 2013 election the only candidate was the incumbent so he won automatically. In 2014 there was one candidate and a total of six ballots were received. Despite the differences from year to year, the WCD board is expected to make decisions about the election and announce them to the public three months before they know whether there will be competing candidates.
In the 2015 election the candidates were able to increase the public’s knowledge of the work of the District and raise awareness of the election far above any prior elections. There were 4282 ballots cast and I lost the election by 89 votes. Of the 4282 ballots cast, 2923 were cast by ‘absentee ballot and 1359 were cast in person at the WCD office. Two hundred sixty-five (265) ballots were disqualified. The majority of the disqualified ballots were ‘absentee’ ballots: 107 did not include the attestation form in the proper envelope and 87 did not put ballot into security envelope. In other words, these 194 ballots were not even looked at. Our elections are designed to count the votes of every elector when the intent of the voter can be ascertained. There is no reason to exclude these ballots from the count.
There are several important matters that you should also consider when you review this election and future elections for the Whatcom Conservation District:
1. The Whatcom Conservation District includes all of Whatcom County. There are over 120,000 registered voters in the county, each of whom is entitled to vote in WCD elections. The 4000+ ballots that were cast represent less than three and one half percent of the potential ballots. Every other county-wide election has a turnout greater than 50%. Every other county election is vote by mail where the voters receive a ballot in the mail.
A. The WCD election requires that a voter wishing to receive a mail-in ballot ask that one be mailed one month prior to election day. While over 3600 ballots were requested and there were 2923 ballots returned by mail, this is no way to ensure a fair election. At least one voter has publicly stated he requested a ballot in a timely manner, but did not receive one. Other voters were unable to request a ballot during the window open for ballot requests. It is likely that there are many additional voters who were unable to cast a mail vote.
B. The WCD election was publicized only by a few small announcements in the local newspapers. Many voters do not read a newspaper. The Whatcom County Auditor produces a local Voters Pamphlet that is mailed to each voter for elections that she supervises. The WCD does not. The WCD does not have the budget to support this level of outreach to inform voters of the election or the qualifications of the candidates.
C. The rules mailed to voters by WCD conflicted with Appendix A of the Commission Election and Appointment Procedures Manual. Washington Conservation Commission voting rules are at odds with normal election rules, leaving voters confused. One of the conflicting rules is that ballots are required to be RECEIVED in the Whatcom Conservation District office by election day. Normal voting rules state that ballots must be POST-MARKED by election day, irregardless of the delivery date. Five ballots were disqualified because they did not ARRIVE in time, even though they were post-marked on election day. These inconsistencies result in reducing the potential number of people choosing to vote.
2. The WCD office is located in rural Whatcom County, about 20 miles from downtown Bellingham, the largest concentration of voters in the county. It takes from 20-40 minutes to drive from Bellingham to the WCD offices (at least an hour round trip), depending on traffic conditions and where the voter lives in Bellingham. With just one polling place, a heavy voter turn out can mean a significant wait at the poll. Thus, a Bellingham resident with a car will need to take at least an hour to vote in this election. The WCD does not have the resources to operate and staff a polling place in Bellingham. For voters who rely on public transit, the Whatcom Transportation Authority (http://www.ridewta.com) has six buses each day that stop at the corner near the WCD office. Five of these buses leave from the north Bellingham transit terminal at
Cordata; one leaves from the downtown Bellingham transit terminal. Of the six buses, two arrive at the WDC office after the poll closes at 6:00 p.m., effectively leaving four public buses per day. However, first the voter has to get to the Cordata transit terminal. A voter living in central or southern Bellingham must transfer to a bus to the Cordata terminal at the downtown terminal. A voter living in Ferndale, Blaine or Birch Bay, other population centers in the District, must also take a bus which can take as much as 45-50 minutes to get to Cordata terminal. It would take between 5 and 8 hours to vote in the WCD election for a voter who relies on public transit. Many voters, especially students at Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College and the Bellingham Technical College have class and work schedules that prohibit taking this much time to get to the polls at a distant part of the county.
Upon your review of the results, I believe you will agree that this was not a fair election and that many voters were denied their vote. The work of the Whatcom Conservation District is important to the economic and environmental health of our entire county. This process has compromised the reputation of the Whatcom Conservation District, reducing the essential community support for the important work they do for our farming economy, the natural environment and citizens of Whatcom County. I appreciate your thoughtful consideration of these election results. I believe you will find my request that all votes that clearly reflect the intent of the voter be counted. I look forward to your response.
2015 Supervisor Candidate
cc: Whatcom Conservation District Board of Supervisors:
I have attached a letter that I sent to the state commission chair and executive director [of the Conservation Districts]. I am going to send an addendum as follows:
In addition to the concerns expressed in my letter of April 7, 2015, I have concluded that the rule regarding attestation is oppressive and unnecessary. Since the Whatcom Conservation District does not require a voter casting a ballot in person to provide identification and does not conduct a signature comparison using the attestation form, there is no practical reason to require a signature or any proof of identity whatsoever.