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Contested PCO races on Aug. 7 ballot

OLYMPIA – After several years of adjusting to the state’s nonpartisan Top Two primary, which is a non-partisan affair, some voters will have a chance to cast a partisan vote for one office this August.

The Top Two primary on Aug. 7 will feature partisan offices like governor, congress member and legislator, but doesn’t narrow the field by picking the top Democrat and top Republican for those offices. It sends the two candidates with the most votes to the general election, regardless of party.

Candidates aren’t necessarily supported by the party they say they prefer, and a voter need not stick to a single party preference for all offices.

But a rule announced Wednesday says some voters will have the chance to cast a partisan vote for an office most know very little about, the precinct committee officer.

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PCO, as post is commonly known, is the most basic of partisan jobs. It is the person in the neighborhood precinct that runs a caucus, attends party meetings, and on rare occasions when an elected official resigns a partisan office, helps nominate a replacement. Republicans and Democrats are supposed to each have an elected PCO in each precinct, but the job isn’t very popular and many precincts have no officer.
State and party officials have been struggling for a way to elect a partisan official in a nonpartisan election. Under the new rules, if only one Democrat or Republican in a precinct files for the post, that person isn’t on the ballot, he or she gets the job. If two people in a precinct from the same party file for the post, they go on the ballot with the party designation after their name, and the winner gets the position. By voting for one of the two, a voter is affirming that he or she is a member of that party, although that won’t be recorded and it doesn’t void any votes on the ballot cast for candidates for other offices who prefer a different party.
If two Democrats and two Republicans file for PCO in a particular precinct, all four go on the ballot. A voter can only mark the ballot for one of the four, and is affirming membership in the party of the PCO chosen.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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