February 6, 2014 in Washington Voices

County splitting larger voting precincts

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Spokane County officials moved last week to pare down the size of 14 large voting precincts, but members of the Republican Party questioned how the change will affect grass-roots politics.

Dividing the precincts creates opportunities to elect 14 new precinct committee officers, and that is a good thing because it creates more opportunities for party members to get involved, county commissioners said.

“We want the electorate to be involved,” said County Commissioner Todd Mielke, a Republican.

The commissioners voted unanimously on Jan. 28 to divide the precincts roughly by half. They currently have 1,200 to 1,300 voters each.

The issue is sensitive for county Republicans who have been undergoing an internal struggle for control of the local party. In 2012, the Spokane GOP had 100 contested precinct committee races, showing heightened interest in local Republican politics.

Alene Lindstrand, a GOP member, said the changes are a waste of time and would put more of a burden on the party to fill the new precinct committee officer positions.

“It doesn’t have to be done,” said Ruth Ryan, another local Republican.

Ryan said she was concerned that the changes would complicate the credentials process for precinct caucuses on March 1.

The caucuses provide a grass-roots foundation for establishment of party positions on various issues. They also are used to select delegates to party conventions.

Commissioners agreed to wait until March 3 to make the precinct changes so it wouldn’t interfere with the caucuses.

County Auditor Vicky Dalton said Democrats were not taking a position on the precinct divisions.

She said her office has heard complaints from both Democratic and Republican party officials and precinct committee officers who have had a hard time managing and canvassing the large precincts.

County Commissioner Al French, also a Republican, said making the change this year will allow voters to choose their new precinct committee officers this fall. Those officers will then be in place for the 2016 election season, which is expected to draw heightened interest as a presidential election year.

Precinct committee positions are on the ballot in even-year elections.

French said letting voters make the choice is the best policy.

Dalton pointed out that the state limits precincts to 1,500 voters. The county created the large precincts two years ago to meet a deadline for the once-a-decade redistricting of legislative districts in 2012.

The districts being split are 4005, 4015, 4024, 4026, 4300, 4301, 4302, 4420, 6016, 6028, 6103, 6105, 6302 and 7027.

In addition, boundary changes were approved for precincts 9004, 9006 and 7024.

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