Clark County commissioners lean toward nonpartisan freeholders

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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After a half-hour's worth of considering different ways to hold a freeholder election this year, Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke said at a Wednesday meeting that the board appears to have gone "back to Plan A."

Wait, what plan is that again? A decision is expected next week.

Right now, it appears 15 freeholders will be elected, five per commissioner district, through a traditional election in which the candidates do not list a political affiliation.

The freeholders will be charged with crafting a county charter that could be referred to voters. A new charter could increase the number of commissioners, and give voters more rights to petition and referendum.

Commissioners have been thoughtful in considering what the best way would be to elect the positions after discovering that partisan positions, as they originally approved, would require the financial burden of a primary.

Nonpartisan positions, however, can head straight to the November general election.

Mielke, the architect of the resolution to bring home rule forward, said at Wednesday's meeting that appears to be the current direction.

Also under consideration was altering the way an election of freeholders would be held. Rather than a traditional election, where candidates file for one of the five positions open within their district, the option was presented to offer voters a full field of candidates. In that scenario, each voter could vote five times and the top five vote-getters would win spots on the board of freeholders.

Commissioners appeared intrigued by that alternate election idea, but Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey asked Carolyn Long, a professor in the school of politics, philosophy and public affairs at Washington State University Vancouver, to give her opinion on which method is most democratic.

After explaining how options with a full field of candidate have been found to have several weaknesses, Long suggested commissioners stick with the status quo: one person, one vote for each position.

"If that is your goal, and it is combined with the goal of not giving a disproportionate amount of influence to people who have special interests, who have money interests, who have a dog in this fight, then you should choose option one," Long said.

After hearing Long's assessment, all three commissioners seemed to approve of her advice.

"That's a very compelling argument," said Commissioner David Madore. "I didn't think I'd be persuaded that way, but I am."

Commissioners will officially vote on the matter at 10 a.m. June 18 at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.