The Klickitat County Auditor's Office has corrected and sent out new ballots for the White Salmon Valley School District's special bond election on Feb. 6.
The action comes after it was discovered that a key word was omitted from the title of the original ballot proposition for the school district's $1.7 million bond levy for "expansion and improvement of school facilities."
All the flawed ballots had already gone out when the error was found, and some voters had already marked and returned the bad ballots. Those voters are urged to vote again using the new ballot. The first ballot will then be discarded.
"An error was made through proofing and editing," explained Klickitat County Auditor Brenda Sorensen. "The ballot was proofed, but when the ballot title was sent to the printer, the word `no' was omitted from the phrase `no more than.' A copy was faxed to the school district, but the superintendent has advised they did not receive it."
Leaving out the word "no" completely changed the nature of the measure being voted on. Instead of the school district issuing general obligation bonds of "no more than $1,700,000," it read that the school district would issue general obligation bonds of "more than $1,700,000."
Sorensen said once the error was discovered, the Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney's Office was contacted.
"The Prosecutor and I consulted with the school district's counsel and amended the ballot title," Sorensen said.
The school district was given the option of changing the date of the election to March 13 or having the Auditor's Office reprint the ballots and send them out again.
"The school district chose to leave the election date as Feb. 6 and have the printed ballots sent out to absentee voters," explained Sorensen.
School Superintendent Dale Palmer said moving the date was not as simple as it might sound.
"First of all, we were not completely convinced it would have been legal to move it to March," said Palmer. "Talking with out legal counsel, we thought moving it was kind of on shaky ground. Besides that, we wanted to run it in February. If we had wanted to run it in March, we would have passed a resolution to do that."
The Auditor's Office reprinted 2,344 ballots with the correct wording, then hand-delivered the ballots to the respective post offices to ensure everyone would have them as soon as possible. Most voters got their new ballots on Saturday, 11 days before they were due to be returned. As long as ballots are postmarked by the date of the election -- Feb. 6 -- they will be counted.
The corrected ballots have the name of the voter marked in bright yellow highlighter to ensure that only the correct ballots are counted.
Included with the new ballot was a notice that explains the reasons for the second ballot and the process to follow.
"There was an error made on the first ballot that you received in the mail. If you have already mailed the first ballot you received, please vote again and return the second ballot. The first ballot will not be processed ..." it read.
Sorensen added that the costs to redo the ballots and mail them out again will be paid from the elections budget of the Auditor's Office.
By state law, the school district will need to get a 60 percent vote in favor for the bond measure to pass.
The reconfigured ballot measure describes how the bond money will be used if voters OK the measure.
"This proposition would authorize the district to acquire and install new modular classrooms at Whitson Elementary School, a new roof on Henkle Middle School, new district-wide flooring and new lockers at Columbia High School, make athletic and parking improvements, and complete rest rooms underneath grandstand," read a portion of the measure that will appear on the ballot.
Because of the potential for voter confusion, Palmer said he is worried about the election process.
"What happens if we end up with 59 percent of the vote, and there are 15 or 20 `Yes' votes that were returned using the first ballot?" he questioned. "What would be the call on that? It's a mess. We'll wait for the results; that's all we can do now."
Palmer said he knew of two people who voted to support the school, but then left the state to travel and would not be able to cast the second ballot.
"How many are just like them?" Palmer asked. "This is a very unfortunate situation. This bond is critical to us. There are a lot of facilities in dire need of repair. It's going to be interesting to see how this thing turns out."
The ballots for those voters living in Skamania County who vote in White Salmon Valley School District elections are advised that the ballots issue by the Skamania County Auditor's Office are correct. Skamania County voters can go ahead and mark their ballots and return them without regard to the issues facing Klickitat County's voters.
Sorensen added that the ballots for the Trout Lake and Klickitat school districts -- which have M&O levies on the Feb. 6 ballot -- are correct. Voters in those school districts can cast their ballots as they normally would.