Voting officials in both Klickitat County and Skamania County are working to educate citizens about changes in the state's primary election rules and quirks in this year's process.
The biggest change, which first took effect in 2004, is the one that prevents voters from casting ballots for a mixture of different political party candidates. A court decision determined that the "blanket" primary that allowed voters to vote for more than one political party's candidates in a primary election was "unconstitutional," so voters will be required to vote for no more than one party's candidates.
"The Ninth Circuit Court affirmed the District Court ruling that decided a blanket primary took away a political party's constitutional rights to chose who their standard bearer would be, and their right of association," explained Skamania County Auditor J. Michael Garvison.
This week, Garvison placed ads in area newspapers in an effort to help voters understand the primary voting process, which can be confusing.
Garvison pointed out that in Skamania County, which is now an entirely vote-by-mail county, each voter will get three ballots. Voters are allowed to choose and vote only one of the partisan ballots, and the non-partisan races appear on all the ballots.
"You may choose from Republican, Democrat, or Non-Partisan," reads the letter. "There will be no record of which ballot type you choose. You will see that all ballots include the non-partisan races ... mail your ballot in time to ensure it is postmarked no later than Sept. 19. Discard the other two unused ballots."
In Klickitat County, the ballots will be different. Instead of three separate ballots, voters will get one ballot with two boxes at the top: Democratic and Republican. Voters must check one of the two boxes, then can only vote for candidates in that particular political party.
"We have one ballot, with color coding so it all ties together," said Klickitat County Auditor Dede Pafford. "We used it two years ago."
Pafford, a Democrat, said the Republican Party box and the Republican candidates will be color-coded in red; with the Democratic Party box and the Democratic candidates color-coded in blue.
Garvison conceded that having to print and mail multiple ballots makes Skamania County's elections cost more.
"It's not a huge cost, but it is more costly," Garvison said. "I weighed the cost for the extra ballots versus the additional spoiled ballots with the consolidated ballot."
Garvison, a Republican, said the restricted party primary system is still controversial, even though it's been in effect for two years now.
"It's still a hot issue," Garvison said. "Especially for longtime voters, and I agree with them. In small counties such as Skamania and Klickitat, people vote for the person, not the party. In 2004, we had a lot of people who were upset. For 70 years, they voted however they wanted to."
Pafford said she continues to hear from people who are still upset with the change.
"You're telling people they are not able to have a choice, and they're upset with that. They feel they're being restricted, especially here with the sheriff and prosecutor races. This is it -- the primary winner will be the only one on the ballot in November. These are important races, because these are offices that protect our public."
Pafford said that as a citizen, she too misses the blanket primary.
"I know why the parties asked for this, but it limits our choice. People deserve the right to have a choice," she said. "People are forced to choose a side, but a lot of people vote for the candidates, not the party. So I think you'll find people voting not necessarily by party, but by what race is most important to them. A lot of people might say they wouldn't normally vote on this particular side, but who serves as the sheriff or prosecutor is very important to them. Voters can really make a difference on the local level."
Both Pafford and Garvison agree there could be a great deal of crossover voting this September. Pafford said that is especially true in Klickitat County, because only voters living in the central part of the county will be able to vote for the Democratic Party nominee in the Klickitat County Commission race.
That's because only the voters living within District 2 -- which stretches roughly from Snowden Road east to the western portion of the city of Goldendale -- will be allowed to vote in the County Commission race during the primary. Communities within District 2 include Klickitat, Wishram, Maryhill, Dallesport, Appleton, and Lyle. For other areas of the county, the County Commission race will simply not appear on the ballot.
Since there are no local Democratic Party races on the ballot other than in District 2, many Democrats are likely to vote in the GOP primary rather than simply not vote.
"There could be a lot of crossover voting," Garvison explained. "In Washington, you don't register as a party member when you register to vote. If there is no Democratic primary, those voters can cross over to affect the outcome in the Republican primary. In our District 3 County Commission race [eastern Skamania County], for example, there is a contested GOP primary, and no Democrats in a primary."
Ballots for the primary races will go out in the mail on Aug. 31.
Pafford said she anticipates a large voter turnout among the county's 11,800 registered voters.
"This one is pretty big. We're hoping to get 50-60 percent turnout," Pafford explained.