Elections rule change could boost primary costs

WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) - A rule change requiring counties to hold primary elections every time a partisan race is up for grabs could significantly increase the cost of elections for some Washington counties.

In Chelan County, taxpayers will pay about $100,000 for the Aug. 6 primary, even though the only race on the ballot is for county prosecutor and only one person is running for the position, The Wenatchee World reported Tuesday.

The bill approved by the Legislature by near-unanimous votes in April repeals part of an older law, which allowed counties to refrain from holding primary elections in odd-numbered years if two or fewer candidates were running in each of the races. Those candidates would skip the primary and appear only on the general election ballot in November.

That still remains true for non-partisan posts.

One side effect of the bill: Candidates can double their campaign fundraising.

Legislative and some county-level candidates may collect up to $900 per donor for their campaigns every time their names appear on a ballot, according to Lori Anderson of the state Public Disclosure Commission. Appearing on both a primary and general election ballot allows them to double that amount.

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, told the newspaper that the primary motivation behind the bill was campaign contributions.

Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, a Wenatchee Republican, said she doesn't remember hearing anything negative about the bill. She joined state Rep. Brad Hawkins, R-Wenatchee, in calling Chelan County's predicament an "unintended consequence."

"If Chelan County has to incur a bunch of extra costs for their election, then I'm really disappointed I voted for the bill," Hawkins said. "You try your best to understand each piece of legislation ... You want to get everything right, but it doesn't sound like we got it right."

Said Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore, "It may be an unintended consequence, but it's a hell of an unintended consequence for us."