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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

5 takeaways from 2015 general election

Results in Clark County signal clear messages, truths even with low voter turnout

By The Columbian
Published: November 8, 2015, 6:05am

Results from last Tuesday’s general election won’t be certified until Nov. 24, but already the parties and pundits are analyzing the results and projecting what will need to be done for 2016. Although most of the races in odd years, such as 2015, are local and nonpartisan, you can be sure the data will be parsed long before the first declarations of candidacy are filed May 16.

Here are five takeaways from this year’s general election:

1. Even well-supported write-in campaigns aren’t easy

Regardless of politics, waging a successful write-in campaign is not an easy prospect.

“It’s just an extraordinary, extraordinary effort to make someone write in a name of someone not on the ballot,” said Christian Berrigan, spokesman for the campaign to write in Liz Pike for county council chair. “That’s where the money came in. All you can do is educate people.”

In Pike’s case, more than $10 per vote was spent to attract a little less than 24 percent of the total, putting her in third place.

The last time a write-in candidate succeeded locally was in 1994, when populist Republican Linda Smith campaigned for and won a seat in Congress.

But those were very different circumstances. Smith launched a 19-day grass roots effort before the primary election that year after Republican candidate Timothy Moyer dropped out of the race when his tax records were called into question. Her winning spot among Republican candidates in the primary earned her a place on the November ballot, and she went on to defeat liberal incumbent Democrat Jolene Unsoeld.

This year, Pike agreed to make a general election run when her name was not even considered in the months leading up to the primary election. Her opponents, Democrat Mike Dalesandro and Marc Boldt, a lifelong Republican running with no party preference, had no black spots on their records similar to Moyer’s.

Berrigan said the Pike campaign also faced a significant “challenge culturally,” where some conservative voters feared voting for Pike might guarantee Dalesandro’s victory.

“What really won was the fear of a (Democrat),” Berrigan said.

— Kaitlin Gillespie

2. Maybe Madore’s money is mud

What could you buy with about $546,000? A new home, debt-free? Perhaps two?

Your own private island?

Or how about three losing campaigns?

Voters resoundingly defeated local conservative candidates who received significant contributions from Clark County Councilor David Madore, including Madore himself.

In his own bid for county council chair, the Republican spent about $240,120 of his own money on the primary election. He took third place with 25.5 percent of the votes, losing to Mike Dalesandro, Democrat, and Marc Boldt, no party preference.

But Madore’s attempts to defeat Dalesandro and Boldt didn’t stop there. In the general election, Madore financially backed the write-in campaign of state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas. Between in-kind and cash donations from himself and associated political action committees, Madore gave $292,500 to Pike, who finished third.

Madore also gave $13,500 to conservative Lisa Ross, the pro-oil terminal candidate running for the District 2 seat on the Port of Vancouver commission. Ross lost to oil terminal opponent Eric LaBrant, 43 percent to 56 percent. LaBrant spent more money than Ross, thanks to about $100,000 in in-kind donations from Washington Conservation Voters for fliers and advertisements.

The LaBrant-Ross race results also illustrates the trend that better-financed candidates tend to win.

Republican Julie Olson of Ridgefield won a county council seat after out-fundraising Democrat Chuck Green. Olson was not financially backed by Madore and has not aligned herself politically with him.

Olson raised about $35,580 in her campaign, compared with Green’s $28,130.

In the race for the Vancouver City Council open seat, Ty Stober raised about $62,100, more than twice as much as his opponent, Linda Glover. He won by approximately 800 votes, or 51 percent to 48 percent. Both candidates in the nonpartisan race shared similar views on major issues facing the city.

— Kaitlin Gillespie

3. Port district voters don’t want an oil terminal

Although a summer poll showed a majority of Clark County residents support a proposed oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver, voters within port taxing district boundaries apparently do not.

Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly chose port commissioner candidate Eric LaBrant, who is fervently against the oil terminal, over opponent Lisa Ross, who supports the controversial project, which would be largest oil-by-rail terminal in the United States. LaBrant received 56.12 percent of the vote compared with Ross’s 43.26 percent.

An August survey of a sampling of Clark County residents found that more than two-thirds of respondents favored the terminal. The survey was commissioned by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, which want to build the terminal.

However, only voters living within port district boundaries had a say in the port commissioner election. Ultimately, Gov. Jay Inslee will be the one to decide whether the oil terminal gets built. But public opinion does factor into the decision — and the voters have spoken.

— Amy M.E. Fischer

4. We love and hate incumbents

People love to complain about government — except, it seems, when it counts. Put a ballot in front of them and they re-elect the incumbents they so regularly criticize.

That pattern held true in local elections except for Woodland, where outgoing Mayor Grover Laseke lost his bid for a council seat to newcomer Karl Chapman by 15 percentage points in the initial returns, and Matthew Jacobs defeated appointed Councilor Mike Benjamin.

But incumbents swept the field in races for the Vancouver City Council, all of the school boards, and the Camas, Ridgefield, Battle Ground and Washougal city councils. And many incumbents on the 96-item ballot faced no opposition at all.

Given the low voter turnout, this could mean the unhappiest local residents abstained from voting in this election, and the faithful voters are pleased with the status quo. Without any big election shake-ups, people can expect their local governments to proceed on their set courses. And that’s fine for some, but others will, undoubtedly, threaten to “throw the bums out.”

Based on the outcomes of Tuesday’s election, they’re either a vocal minority or they’re not voting.

— Amy M.E. Fischer

5. Election? Who cares?

Apathetic voters are becoming a disheartening trend in politics.

“When we’re voting, we’re making decisions on how our government is going to be run and issues that affect all of us,” said Cathie Garber, the elections supervisor for Clark County. “It’s a shame when a small percentage of people make a decision for the entire county.”

That’s what happened this election cycle.

Voter turnout according to the latest Friday afternoon returns was a dismal 33.37 percent, lower than statewide voter turnout, which was 36.38 percent as of Friday.

This election, voters picked the chair of the Clark County council and the newest Port of Vancouver commissioner, who will have a say in the proposed oil-by-rail terminal and whether it’s built.

Unless it’s a presidential election or there is a hot-ticket item on the ballot, such as legalizing marijuana, many voters tune out. But, as Garber pointed out, it’s the local elections that can have the greatest impact on our lives.

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Some of the small cities had a slightly higher turnout rate. In La Center, where they elected a new mayor, 42.33 percent of the city’s registered voters returned their ballots.

Officials with the Clark County Elections Department are working to improve turnout by adding more 24-hour drop box sites. This election cycle, during the primary, 10,000 ballots were undeliverable because citizens didn’t update their addresses.

— Lauren Dake and Brooks Johnson