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Ballot concerns library backers

Oak Harbor Library supporters are concerned that their cause may be damaged by Washington’s most confusing primary election in years.

The election will shift to the polling places Tuesday, Sept. 14, when the one-third of Island County voters who don’t vote by absentee ballot trek to the polls.

Absentee voters have been casting their ballots for more than two weeks, as 29,400 ballots were mailed out three weeks prior to the election.

Loann Gulick, elections officer, said Friday morning that 9,205 ballots had been returned through Thursday.

Some votes have complained of the new “Montanta style” primary system, in which voters must select a party ballot and only vote for that party’s nominees. But Gulick indicated complaints are lessening as time goes by.

Supporters of the two issues needed to build a new library in Oak Harbor are worried that some people may inadvertently not be voting on those issues, said Bob Hallahan, chairman of the pro-library “Yes-Yes” campaign.

Hallahan said he’s received several complaints from people who picked a party ballot, but then thought they couldn’t vote for the non-partisan issues on the ballot. “We’ve had very educated members of the community who failed to vote yes on the library,” he said Friday. “They picked a party, but didn’t know about the non-partisan positions.”

At the Blueprint for Change meeting Thursday night, several employees of Sno-Isle library also expressed concern that confusion over the ballot may affect voting results. Cheryl Telford, assistant director of community libraries and technology, pointed out at least 40 percent of the number of people who voted in the last general election must cast ballots on the two ballot issues in order to validate them.

The library officials said they didn’t anticipate confusion over the ballots so they didn’t put an effort into educating the community about how to vote.

Each party ballot also contains non-partisan races and issues, but there’s also a separate non-partisan ballot available for people who don’t want to vote in a party primary. The confusion seems to center on people thinking they can’t vote for non-partisan issues unless they choose the non-partisan ballot.

Gulick said she has heard some comments about the situation, but she doesn’t think it’s been a big problem. She said a blue sheet of paper containing additional voting instructions was inserted in each absentee envelope. “We’re hoping it’s a little less confusing if they read the blue insert,” she said, emphasizing that all ballots contain the non-partisan issues.

Hallahan, an absentee voter himself, said the blue insert does a good job of explaining how to vote if voters will take the time to read it. But he added that he filled out his own ballot with no problems and “I didn’t read the instructions.”

The major contested local races on the ballot include District 1 County Commissioner, where incumbent Republican Mike Shelton is fending off a challenge from Reece Rose; 10th District House Position 1, where Nancy Conard and Gina Bull are competing for the Democratic nomination; and U.S. Congress, 2nd District, where three Republicans, Suzanne Sinclair, Larry Klepinger and Glenn Coggeshell III, are seeking the GOP nomination.

Whidbey Island ballots also contain propositions important to local fire district and library supporters.

* Island County Fire Protection District 5, also known as Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue, is seeking an increase in the regular property tax levy from $1.19 per thousand to $1.29 per thousand of assessed value.

* The Oak Harbor Capital Library Facility area is on the ballot, which requires 50 percent voter approval to form a library district that coincides with the school district boundaries. The second library proposal is for $12 million in general obligation bonds to build a new library in downtown Oak Harbor. That proposal requires 60 percent voter approval.

Hallahan voiced one other worry about the library proposals. The bond issue needs a voter turnout of at least 40 percent of those who voted in the last general election. “I’m concerned about that,” he said, alluding to the unpopularity of the state’s new primary system.

The polls will open Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Gulick said extra poll workers will be manning the polls to help answer questions. “I’m anxious to see how it works on election day,” she said.

(News-Times assistant editor Jessie Stensland contributed to this story.)

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