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County awash in PCO candidates

The most basic political position for either party is that of the Precinct Committee Officer, a job with no pay, limited authority, and the potential for significant demands on the office holder’s time.

In theory, Democrats and Republicans should each elect a PCO for each of Spokane County’s 314 precincts every two years, although in many years the parties often go begging for willing candidates, and when they find one, there’s no contest for the job.

Not this year. In 105 precincts, about a third of the county’s total, there will be contested elections. Almost all, 101 races, will be for Republican positions. In one precinct, a South Hill precinct near Roosevelt Elementary School, both parties have contested PCO races with two Democrats and three Republicans.

By comparison, less than a tenth of the precincts in King County have contested PCO races in the Aug. 7 election.

It’s a sign of the ongoing struggle between two factions of the local GOP,

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Precinct officers keep their spots

A federal judge's ruling that Washington state's way of electing precinct committee officers is unconstitutional may have some wondering about the ones elected last August.

Precinct committee officers, or PCOs as they are usually called, are the backbone of county party organizations. They pick the county chairman or chairwoman, vice chairman/woman, state committeeman and committeewoman and the legislative district leaders. When a vacancy occurs in a legislative or county elective seat, they nominate a replacement.

Which 4th Legislative District PCOs are scheduled to  do this weekend to fill the state Senate seat left open by Sen. Bob McCaslin's retirement.

But U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled yesterday in Seattle that they way the state currently elects PCOs is unconstitutional. They are elected on the Top Two primary ballot in even numbered years, but the Top Two is an election in which the other candidates for partisan office merely state their party preference and the winners are not considered the nominees of their preferred parties. (Want to read the entire order? Click here.)

That's fine for other offices, because voters can reasonably understand that those candidates aren't necessarily members of, or endorsed by, the parties for which the list a preference, Coughenour said. But the PCOs are party officials, not really public officials and the parties have a right to expect that only party members elect party officials. There's no way to ensure that under the current system.

But Coughenour's ruling is propsective, Katie Blinn of the Washington Secretary of State's office said. "He didn't speak at all retrospectively. He is simply stating that going into the future, the state can't continue doing it t his way."

It's likely a bill or two might find its way to the Legislature with a plan to fix this problem. But for right now, the 4th District PCOs are legally entitled to nominate replacements for McCaslin.