Today's special election, in order to select a new non-partisan King County Elections Director, promises to be an ill-attended venture with voter participation numbers likely


Will Low Voter Turnout Steel Irons' Chances?

Today's special election, in order to select a new non-partisan King County Elections Director, promises to be an ill-attended venture with voter participation numbers likely to come in at around 25 percent. That's a disappointing showing, considering how all-mail voting has been touted to increase voter turnout and that this is the first county-wide vote-by-mail election in the county.

With few exceptions, King County as a whole votes overwhelmingly Democratic. In the popular Red State vs. Blue State match-up, the county is indigo.

So can someone who has served in office as a conservative Republican, win a county-wide race?

The Elections Director position is supposed to be non-partisan. But with Democrats lining up behind incumbent appointee Sherril Huff and most Republicans backing former County Councilmember David Irons Jr, the race is likely to follow the same familiar path.

In a typical November election, with candidates proudly sporting a "D" or an "R" behind their names, the outcome of this race would probably be a foregone conclusion. The way things have turned out, however, the results could be surprising.

Because this isn't your typical November election. After voters finally were given the chance to approve I-25, three months ago, the truncated race has had all the ferocity of six trees being felled by lightning in a forest. The pity is that no one is paying attention to whether they fall or not.

Consider the background.

America has elected and inaugurated its first black president. There is a world-wide recession with mounting job losses. Israel invaded the Gaza Strip to defend itself from rocket-firing Hamas terrorists.

Locally, there's been a snow storm and a record flood. Political attention has been focused on whether County Executive Ron Sims will get a federal appointment and who'll replace him.

Topping everything off, two days prior to the election, there's the Super Bowl which all but eliminates the final weekend of campaigning by nullifying volunteer and get out the vote efforts.

All these factors translate to voters simply not having the time, or inclination, to worry about who is going to draw a six-figure salary in a relatively unknown (although recently politicized) local office.

Irons freely acknowledges that the low voter turnout probably helps his campaign. A former outspoken conservative on the County Council and GOP candidate for County Executive in 2005, there's no point in hiding the scarlet R on his chest. Although he wouldn't concede defeat if this was a November election, Irons is confident that he has at least a fifty-fifty chance of unseating his Democratic "non-partisan" opponent.

"It's the perfect storm of events that has pushed the race onto the back burner," Irons said.

Although he has raised well over $100,000 in contributions, most from his own wallet, the Issaquah politician has opted for a more low-key campaign. In-person breakfasts, luncheons and dinners with community groups such as Rotary clubs and chambers of commerce have replaced your normal incessently annoying television and radio buys. Irons has sent out only one mail piece and there has been a single robo-call from Attorney General Rob McKenna. The campaign wasn't even going to order campaign signs but volunteers continued to nag Irons for something to put in their front yards to show their support. After relenting, 500 were ordered.

"There was no time for television and radio," Irons explained. "Instead we have to get to people that want to vote."

This grassroots approach to politics might seem anachronistic when trying to win a race with 1.1 million voters. That's a lot of hands to kiss and babies to shake for even the most energetic politician. But it's an approach that still works, particularly when applied to areas that should be Irons' political stronghold, the Eastside and South King County.

The campaign has asked individual volunteers to take their own initiative by starting e-mail chains, reminding everyone in their web address book to vote. Younger, politically active voters have used social networking sites like Facebook to hit their friends up as well.

The final arrow in Irons' quiver is the hope that there are still voters in the county who remember and are upset with how the Elections Office has been run, particularly with the somewhat murky outcome of the 2004 recount.

The King County Elections Office posts online everyday the number of absentee ballots that have been returned. As of Monday night, only 17 percent of the county had voted. Speaking with their spokesperson, Megan Coppersmith, she said the KCEO has no way of tabulating from which part of the county ballots have returned; at least until after the final vote.

However, political prognosticators can maybe look at a pair of school and park measures also on the ballot in Fall City and Enumclaw. Although the number is statistically small compared to the rest of the county, Fall City has turned out nearly 30 percent of the vote. Enumclaw is at 29 percent. Both towns are at the heart of Irons' political powerbase.

Playing Catch-up: This election has caught the King County Democratic Party with its collective pants down around their ankles. Due to party reorganization, KC Dems were only able to officially endorse their candidate of choice (Huff) last week. The first Democrat phone banks were opened last Saturday, the day before the Super Bowl.

The King County GOP, behind the curve as well, was still able to get their official volunteer efforts off the ground nearly two weeks earlier.

Democrat County Chair Susan Sheary admits that if voters don't turn out in significant numbers, her candidate could lose.

"Our greatest fears are being realized," Sheary said. "We fought this election with everything inside of us. We fought I-25. And when it became a charter amendment we fought that too."

Sheary said that the party had been worried that a well-funded candidate with high name recognition would compete against Huff in a multi-candidate race.

All three of those fears have come to pass.

A Rose By Any Other Name: The one joker in the deck, which might sabotage an Irons electoral victory is the quixotic campaign of State Senator Pam Roach. The ascorbic Republican from Auburn is known for her staunchly conservative political views. She's also infamous for not playing nicely with others, including members of her own party.

Although not expected to win, the question remains how many votes Roach will draw away from her GOP rival.

The irony is that Republicans have long opposed the concept of Ranked Choice Voting. Pierce County implemented the system in time for the 2008 election. Ranked Choice gives the voter the ability to pick their first, second and third favorite candidates.

In theory, a supporter of Pam Roach could choose her first. Once she loses, that vote could be transferred to the voter's second choice, which would likely be Irons.

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