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Parties should handle own elections of precinct officers

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Jan. 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm with No Comments »
January 6, 2012 6:10 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

The state’s political parties have a bit of business to conduct every two years: the election of their precinct committee officers. That’s fine, but they shouldn’t be doing it on the taxpayer’s dime.

The public – even citizens not affiliated with political parties – have been paying for these elections because the PCO elections have been conducted via the ballot.

The PCO races – if they can be called that when most have only a single candidate – are the ones at the very tag end of the ballot, and more than half of voters don’t even bother with them.

While local governments pay to have their races and issues placed on the ballot, the political parties do not. They pay no filing fees, and the entire cost of conducting these private organizations’ internal business has been subsidized by county government – in other words, the taxpayers.

The PCO races add expense to the ballot because of their sheer presence. Sometimes they result in county auditors having to add another page to the ballot. And there are costs associated with proofreading and translating the ballot language.

That cost is going up. Due to new precinct sizes created by state law, their number in Pierce County will increase from 382 in 2011 to more than 600 later this year. That’s a lot  of additional PCO races for the county auditor to deal with – if they remain on the ballot. Whether they will is unclear at this point.

A  U.S. District Court judge ruled last year that it’s unconstitutional to use the ballot to elect PCOs because the state’s top-two format “allows nonparty members to vote for officers of the political parties.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed  has terminated PCO elections on the public ballot, but the parties are suing his office and trying to get the Legislature to find another way for them to have their elections paid for by the taxpayers.

Lawmakers should leave this issue alone. At a time when they are cutting funds for the state’s most vulnerable citizens, for education and for state parks, cutting back on political parties’ free ballot ride is a no-brainer.

The parties can elect their officers in caucus or work with county auditors to come up with a way for them to pay their fair share of elections costs, just like school districts, cities and other jurisdictions do.

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