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Judge dismisses lawsuit over Pierce County charter amendments

Post by David Wickert on Aug. 31, 2009 at 5:14 pm with No Comments »
August 31, 2009 5:14 pm

A judge has dismissed a challenge to the ballot language describing three proposed amendments to the Pierce County charter.

Sherry Bockwinkel, a term-limit supporter, and Kelly Haughton, a supporter of ranked choice voting, claimed the language of the amendments was inappropriate. But Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper did not rule on their claims.

Instead, Culpepper found the pair had failed to meet a deadline for challenging the ballot language. And while he suggested county policies for alerting people to the deadline might be lacking, he found the county had followed the letter of state law.

County voters will consider three amendments to the county charter in November:

&bull Proposition 1 would move the election of the county executive and council to odd-numbered years by 2015 and increase term limits for those offices from two consecutive four-year terms to three consecutive four-year terms.

&bull Proposition 2 would move the election of auditor, assessor-treasurer and sheriff to odd-numbered years by 2015.

&bull Proposition would eliminate ranked choice voting and restore the primary and general election system for all county elected offices.

Bockwinkel will help write the voters pamphlet statement against Proposition 1. Haughton will help write the statement against Proposition 3.

They claimed the language describing those measures that will appear on the ballot is faulty on two counts.

First, they noted that each amendment asks voters to "approve" or "reject" the amendments. They said that’s a departure from the language used on other recent charter amendments, which used "yes" or "no" language. They said the change in language may confuse voters.

Second, they argued the language of Proposition 1 is prejudicial. It states the proposal would make term limits for executive and council "consistent with term limits in effect for auditor, assessor-treasurer and sheriff." The plaintiffs argued the phrase constitutes an argument in favor of the proposal.

Culpepper didn’t rule on the merits of those claims. Instead, he found the pair had failed to challenge the ballot language within the 10-day time frame allowed to challenge it.

Attorney Richard Shepard argued the county auditor’s office had failed to inform the public about the deadline. But while Culpepper acknowledged the auditor’s office could have done a better job of informing the public, he ruled that under state law the office was only required to notify the County Council – which proposed the charter amendments – and other county officials.

After the ruling, Haughton expressed frustration that his underlying claims about faulty ballot language were not addressed.

He said county official are "using procedural methods to protect a prejudicial ballot title. That’s bad public policy."

Haughton said he and Bockwinkel are unlikely to appeal the judge’s decision.

Pierce County
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