Sunday, January 19, 2020
Jan. 19, 2020

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In Our View: Studying good, bad of primary election results

The Columbian

Is the ballot box half-empty or half-full?

While results from last week’s primary election have not been finalized, a twist on the age-old philosophical question seems relevant as we examine the results.

Voter turnout in Clark County appears to have been about 25 percent, according to numbers from the county auditor’s office. On one hand, that is a marked improvement from the previous odd-year primary; turnout in August 2017 was 20 percent. On the other hand, the numbers reinforce our concern that Americans are allowing their democracy to wilt from inattention. Turnout of 25 percent is nothing to celebrate — even if it is an improvement. Statewide turnout was about 30 percent.

Look at it this way: There are nearly 239,000 registered voters in Clark County, and roughly 191,000 of them opted to let their neighbors choose the people who will be deciding local tax rates and what kind of books our children read in schools.

Of course, this was only a primary, narrowing the field of candidates in each race. History suggests that turnout will be higher for the Nov. 5 general election, but it still will reflect a troubling level of disinterest in our electoral institutions. If we don’t exercise our democracy, it will atrophy.

Meanwhile, the primary provided some interesting results in setting the matchups for the general election.

Among them is the race for county councilor between Gary Medvigy and Adrian Cortes. Medvigy was appointed earlier this year to fill a vacant seat, requiring that the position be on the ballot. But with only two candidates, the primary was nothing more than a dress rehearsal, as both were guaranteed to advance; for many voters in the county, it was the only contest on their ballot — and it was a pointless one.

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey says he has urged the Legislature to change the misguided law requiring such elections to be on the primary ballot, and we repeat our editorial opinion that lawmakers should heed his suggestion.

In a competitive contest for Vancouver City Council, Position 6, Sarah Fox and Jeanne Stewart advanced to the November election. Fox and Stewart are well-qualified candidates with strong histories of community service. Prior to Monday’s updated ballot totals, Fox had 22.3 percent of the vote, Stewart 21.8 percent, and third-place Diana Perez 20 percent in a seven-person field. That is a harbinger of what should be a competitive general election.

In separate races for Battle Ground City Council, Shauna Walters and Josh VanGelder both advanced to the general election. They have made opposition to Initiative 1639, a gun-control measure passed statewide by voters last year, a linchpin of their campaigns. That will lead to robust discussions about the ability of jurisdictions to selectively choose which laws to enforce.

And in races for the Vancouver school board, several educators endorsed by the state teachers union advanced, leading to questions about the influence of the union in setting education policy.

Strong arguments can be made regarding whether or not teachers from nearby districts should sit on school boards. On one hand, they have a good sense of what is taking place in classrooms; on the other hand, the school board plays a role in contract negotiations with teachers’ and other unions.

The Columbian’s Editorial Board likely will examine this issue and others in preparation for the general election. But most important, we encourage voters to examine it for themselves — and then fill up the ballot box.