Efforts to incorporate two cities in the Spokane Valley may have been dealt a fatal blow, organizers say, when elections officials on Tuesday opted to go with the county’s first ever mail-in ballot.
Supporters of proposed cities Evergreen and Opportunity fear the move will encourage “no” ballots from uninformed voters.
They also criticize the change from a conventional ballot only six weeks from the May 21 elections.
“We’re dead in the water,” said Vivienne Latimer, who is pushing Evergreen, a city that would include nearly 15,000 residents between the Spokane River, 24th Avenue, Evergreen Road and Barker Road.
The city of Opportunity would have a little more than 19,000 residents and be bounded by Argonne Road, Evergreen Road, Interstate 90 and 16th Avenue.
“I’m disappointed,” Opportunity backer Ed Meadows said of the mail-in ballot. “We’ve got to change our whole campaign strategy in just a little over a month. We’ve got to reach more people.”
County commissioners voted against a mail-in ballot March 26, even though elections officials said it would reach more voters for less money.
Commissioners Steve Hasson and Phil Harris said it was late in the campaign to try an “experiment” that critics would perceive as trying to influence the outcomes of the elections.
Commissioner John Roskelley liked the idea of saving up to 50 percent of election costs and voted for the mail-in ballot.
The actual costs of holding the elections by mail or polling place are unknown, officials said, because they involve roughly half the Valley’s precincts.
County Auditor Bill Donahue and County Attorney Jim Emacio, citing a temporary state law that gives auditors the authority on how to conduct elections, told commissioners their vote against a mail-in election was null and void.
“Our goal is to get more people out to vote and cut the costs,” Donahue said.
The state law extending the authority over elections to the auditor ends June 9, 1996. Harris scolded Emacio for not telling him last week about the law.
“It makes it look like we’re dysfunctional in the county and that upsets me,” Harris said.
“I hope the headlines will say the auditor made this decision and not the board of county commissioners. A big bold headline.”
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