COMMENTARY/Evan Smith: Should we continue to elect PCOs?

Monday, January 24, 2011

By Evan Smith
ShorelineAreaNews Politics Writer

When a federal judge upheld the top-two primary, January 11, against a challenge from State political parties, he said that the way we select precinct committee officers is unconstitutional.

He agreed with the parties that letting all voters help pick PCOs on a top-two-primary ballot violates the parties’ right to free association.

That led Secretary of State Sam Reed to say that the State should get out of the business of conducting PCO elections.

Not electing PCOs would save a lot of money, but it also could make the parties less accountable to citizens.

Doing away with PCO elections would save King County $1.3 million every two years,

That’s because the County has to print a different primary-election ballot for almost every one of the County’s 2,583 precincts. In fact a County elections official told me last week, the County has to design 2,538 ballot styles. In a very few cases two precincts in the same city, congressional district and legislative district have no filings for PCO. So, they can have the same ballot.

Without the PCO elections, the County would have fewer than 150 ballot styles for those even-year primaries.

The $1.3 million that the County spends for PCO elections every two years could pay for several sheriff deputies or parks workers.

On the other hand, we could lose citizen control of political parties.

Citizens in one Richmond Beach precinct a few years ago voted one 32nd District Democratic official out of her position as a PCO.

Sometimes PCOs matter. If the holder of a partisan office resigns, PCOs from his or her district nominate successors, and when any election goes to a hand-recount, representatives from the Democratic and Republican organizations do the counting,

But, the parties can accept or reject candidates based on their own criteria. King County Democrats apparently accept winners only when they get at least 10 percent of the number of votes of the leading Democratic vote getter in the precinct.

Snohomish County’s elections manager told me Wednesday morning that the parties are free to interpret PCO elections results as they wish.

So, we may be paying for an illusion of control over political parties.
The way we exercise that control seems to be inconsistent with the voter-approved top-two primary.

I would bet that if Washington voters have to choose between the top-two primary and voting for PCOs, voters would let PCO elections go.


Anonymous,  January 24, 2011 at 8:36 AM  

Evan, It's very sad that you don't seem to understand the value of Precinct Committee Officers to our democratic process. This is a fundamental level of participation and political parties are hardly going to go away. Even though you clearly have a gripe against them for some reason.

What on earth could be wrong with local citizens participating as elected officials and helping their neighbors be informed on issues and candidates? It's troubling to hear you constantly gripe about parties and
local participation. Apparently you think there is something wrong with
participating in political parties. Don't you recall the excitement that took place at the district caucuses in the presidential process? So would you rather have voters just be an amorphous mob with no affiliation? How does that help our country, state and communities?

So apparently you believe that parties have no value? What up?

Anonymous,  January 24, 2011 at 8:19 PM  

I agree with Evan. His point is, IMHO, not to diminish the value of the PCO, it's to say: (1) the state needs to save money, and this item costs a bunch; (2) citizen control over the political parties - via a PCO - is dubious. Here's my take. Frankly, so many PCOs run unopposed, there's so little interest that political parties even station people at elections headquarters to pay the filing fees of those who forget there is one or who fax their application in. I've had PCOs go around half-heartedly dumping their predictable (for the most part) endorsement materials that quickly find their way to the recycle pile, which no doubt repeats itself throughout the neighborhood, so I question the value of the PCO to their neighbors. Some were helpful in the 2008 caucuses, but mine hadn't pre-read the script and did so OTJ, slowing us to a snail's pace. Far more importantly, to think that a handful of these folks choose interim candidates for, say, State Representative, and issue endorsements for a variety of electoral contests that perhaps many-fold more than their numbers follow as gospel should be troubling to all. Perhaps something can be designed for online use as a low-cost replacement, but in absence of that, I think the state has many other places that are better to spend their limited resources on.

Anonymous,  January 26, 2011 at 5:18 PM  

Evan, I see very little constructive offered in your superficial analysis.

It is well known that you hassle one party to run candidates against another, which is something that a supposedly neutral political writer is not supposed to do.

So you want to stir the pot some more, eh?

I guess it isn't enough you get to write your opinions her on the Shoreline Area News and the Enterprise, but managed to sneak in your opinion on the endorsements made by the Seattle PI last fall, don't think people didn't notice.

Evan Smith,  January 29, 2011 at 3:51 AM  

I actually support electing PCOs because it gives me a chance to influence local political parties, The problem is that a federal Court has said that it is inconsistent with the top-two primary because it gives independent voters a chance to pick party officials. Since voters have overwhelmingly supported the top-two, they may have to give up voting for PCOs.
Second, PCO elections are expensive, I] Unless the Democrats and Republicans are willing to pay, we may not be able to afford PCO elections.

Evan Smith,  January 29, 2011 at 3:58 AM  

I rarely write opinion, and when I do, I label it "COMMENTARY/Evan Smith."

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