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Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez’ campaign accuses counties of misleading voters in local voters pamphlets. Pierce Auditor responds.

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on July 31, 2012 at 11:28 am |
July 31, 2012 12:42 pm

Appointed Justice Steve Gonzalez‘ campaign manager this morning accused the counties that produced local voter pamphlets for the primary of misleading voters in a way that could endanger his election.

Gonzalez is in a two-person race for the seat he was appointed to by Gov. Chris Gregoire in January. Under rules for judge races, any candidate who receives a majority of the votes in the primary appears on the general election ballot alone. While that is a possible outcome in supreme court races with more than two candidates, it is certain in races with only two.

The other candidate in the race is Bruce Danielson of Kitsap County who has not put a lot of effort into his campaign and has raised no money. Gonzalez has raised $314,410, the most by any candidate for the three supreme court races on the ballot this year.

“Official voter pamphlets distributed across Washington omit critical information that could lead to voter drop-off in a crucial Supreme Court race,” wrote Jake Faleschini, campaign manager for Gonzalez’ campaign. “The pamphlets misleadingly state that Justice Steve Gonzalez’s race will advance to the general election, when in fact it will be determined in the primary.”

Faleschini worries that there will be a drop off of voters who don’t vote in the race for position No. 8 because both candidates will advance regardless of the outcome in the primary.

“It is critical that voters be made aware of this distinction, to prevent drop-off for this landmark judicial race,” he wrote. “Voter pamphlets state that the two candidates with the most votes in the race for State Supreme Court, Position 8, will advance to the general election.”

The pamphlets produced by the state’s larger counties, including King and Pierce, don’t make such a statement. They don’t however, cite the different rules for the court when describing the procedures for the Top Two primary.

In response to a question about the initial press release, Faleschini also complained about instructions inserted into each ballot that tell voters that “In each race, you may vote for any candidate listed. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will advance to the general election.”

“Clearly those instructions are wrong and/or misleading with regards to Justice Gonzalez’s race and there is no clarification in the section about his race alerting voters to the fact that his race will be decided in the primary. This is a serious issue,” Faleschini said.

Here is Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson‘s response:

“The Pierce County Voters’ Pamphlet doesn’t say that the race of Supreme Court No. 8 will advance to the General Election. Mr. Faleschini believes that voters will read the Top-2 Primary explanation (pertaining to partisan races) and erroneously apply the rules to this nonpartisan judicial race. Every county is required to publish this explanation and provide a ballot insert. We have absolutely no discretion about the language. It is prescribed word for word by WAC 434-230-015.

There are specific election rules (RCW 29A.36.171) that govern the Supreme Court. In part, it states, “if a candidate in a contested primary receives a majority of all the votes cast for that office or position, only the name of that candidate may be printed under the title of the office for that position.” Since there are only two candidates for Supreme Court No. 8, it is guaranteed that one of them will garner a majority of votes (unless there was an unlikely and unusual number of write-in votes). The candidate who receives the majority of votes will advance to the General Election ballot, and appear alone. Therefore, the Primary Election will – in practical terms – decide the election.

The August 7 Primary Election is incredibly important. The special rules for Supreme Court simply underscores the fact that every election is important. To those voters who only participate in General Election, I say that they are neglecting a very important civic duty.

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