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Community Councils Adapt To New Vote By Mail System

County change impacts councils

Now that Klickitat County has gone to a system where all voters cast their ballots by mail, it sets up an interesting dilemma for the various community councils around the area.

Traditionally, voters have gone to polling places to vote on federal, state, and local races. While there, they would also cast ballots for the "neighborhood" community council. But now there are no polling places, and the county does not include community council races on its ballots. As a result, the councils are scrambling to find a fair way to allow citizens of the different communities to vote for council candidates.

The process is not without problems, and there is no cookie-cutter solution.

In Trout Lake, the Trout Lake Community Council has decided to keep it simple.

"The council has decided, for this year, to hold its elections in the normal way," explained Pat Arnold, a member of the council. "That is, walk-in voting at the Trout Lake Grange on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, from 7 a.m.-7 p.m."

However, Arnold said she is concerned about how the switch to vote by mail will impact voter participation in the community council races.

"It's a big problem, because the general election pulled more people out. Now people have to remember to come, and it'll be harder to get a good turnout," Arnold explained.

Trout Lake has three Community Council positions on its ballot this year. Two incumbents -- Jeff Baker and Frank Childs -- are seeking new three-year terms, and two other residents, Monica Morris and Carter Davis, have put their names in as well.

The top three vote-getters will serve on the nine-member Trout Lake council.

In the Snowden area, Louis Huszar, chair of the Snowden Community Council, said the council intends to go to a mail-in ballot system.

The 10-member Snowden council elects its members in even numbered years, however, so those in Snowden don't have to deal with the issue this fall.

"We wanted to get started now, instead of scrambling around and not knowing what to do," Huszar said. "One idea was to stuff our ballots into the envelopes the county mails out for voting, but it's not going to work. They can't separate them out."

Instead, the Snowden council will have to do its own mailing.

"We're going to request a list of voters, then we're going to figure out how to correlate that and do a separate mailing. Who's going to pay for the mailing is a separate issue, but one crisis at a time," Huszar said. "This is the best we can come up with so far, but trying to figure out how to get there from here is going to be tough."

Huszar said he didn't think it would work to hold a one-day polling site open for local voters to come in.

"It's out of the way and it's not with the standard voting process, so we would expect turnout to be not so good," he said.

In Lyle, meanwhile, there are two Community Council positions open. Incumbents Darla Brashers and Mike Saylor and running for re-election, but both are unopposed.

Barbara Sexton, chair of the council, said they typically handle their elections by letting people vote at the council's regular meeting in November. As a result, the county's change to vote by mail won't affect Lyle's council elections.

"People just come in and vote at the meeting," Sexton said. "We advertise for two months."

This year, the meeting in which elections are held will be on Nov. 26. The Lyle council meets at the Lyle Lions Community Center.

In the Husum area, two seats will be in play this fall on the Husum-BZ Corner Community Council.

Incumbents Jim Fritchey and George Mersereau are seeking new three-year terms on the seven-member council, and one challenger has stepped forward. Longtime Husum resident Jim Tindall placed his name in the running back in September as a candidate for one of the seats.

The top two finishers win the positions.

Husum-BZ Corner Community Council Chairman Jerry Smith said he was waiting for clarification from the county about how to handle this fall's council voting.

"We don't know yet," Smith explained. "We have two seats up and one name in competition. We're waiting to hear from the County Commissioners on the exact procedure to take."

Smith said the process was complicated by the fact that the boundaries of the Husum-BZ council's territory covered several separate voting precincts.

"We have at least three precincts we cover, and we're waiting for the county to define and clarify for us," Smith said. "It's in the County Commissioners' hands at this time. We need to go through the Auditor and the Prosecutor too to find out how to proceed."

Tindall, who attended the Oct. 2 Husum-BZ council meeting, afterward sent a letter to Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed's office to register his concerns about the uncertainties with the council's voting process. In his letter, Tindall expressed shock at some of what he heard during the meeting.

"Chair Jerry Smith suggested to the council that an amendment to their bylaws be passed to postpone the election, and allow councilors Jim Fritchey and George Mersereau to retain their seats for another two years," Tindall wrote. "I was incredulous and spoke my mind clearly enough that they saw the undemocratic effect of such a motion. Several of the councilors said they would travel to Goldendale Thursday to speak with the County Commissioners to attempt to get a community council ballot included with the mail-in county ballot. Anything your office might do to encourage these parties to work together for a successful election would be greatly appreciated."

Tindall said he was not sure what the Secretary of State's office would be able to do.

"At the very least, I want to keep the Community Council members on their toes," Tindall explained. "If they want to be a representative body, they can't pull this baloney about let's keep the incumbents in office for another two years. Two weeks might have made sense, but two years?"

On Monday, Klickitat County Auditor Brenda Sorensen made clear that the county could not be involved in community council procedures, nor could community council ballots be added to official county election mailings.

"I legally can't handle their elections," Sorensen said. "There's nothing we can do. The law doesn't allow me to deal with it. I can't spend public resources for private gain."

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