OLYMPIA – Rob Chase wouldn’t have been elected Spokane County treasurer under changes the Legislature is considering to the state’s write-in candidate laws.
Filing as a write-in candidate after the primary ballots were mailed in 2010, Republican Chase got about 2 percent of the votes against incumbent Democrat Skip Chilberg, who was running unopposed. But that 2 percent earned Chase a spot on the November ballot, and he beat Chilberg in the general election.
One proposal being considered by the House State Government Committee would require write-in candidates get at least 5 percent of the votes in a primary to advance to the general. It’s an effort, sponsors said, to find serious candidates.
“If someone has the desire and temerity to get 1 percent, that means they are a serious candidate and deserve a shot,” Chase said.
Sheryl Moss of the secretary of state’s elections office said write-in candidates are “a very large problem” in primary races with only one candidate on the ballot.
“Voters feel obligated to write-in a candidate,” Moss said. A few people can get together and decide to write in a friend’s name for an office with only one declared candidate – even if that friend isn’t interested in the job, she said. The state had thousands of write-ins in last year’s election.
Under the state’s top-two primary system, a write-in candidate in a race with only one name on the ballot advances to the general election in those races if he or she gets at least 1 percent of the vote. That’s too low for sparsely populated counties or small districts, Moss said.
In Wahkiakum County last year, a write-in candidate advanced to the general election with just eight votes. In five counties, people had their names written in for offices that they didn’t intend to seek; they got more than 1 percent of the primary vote and were on the general election ballot. State law doesn’t allow them to have their name withdrawn from the ballot at that point.
None of those unwilling write-ins was elected, but in one county two registered voters had the same name as a write-in who qualified for prosecuting attorney on the general election ballot. Neither was interested in the job, but only one was an attorney. He made it clear to voters he didn’t want the job.
Write-in candidates should have to file a declaration of candidacy and pay the filing fee of 1 percent of a year’s salary for the position, Chase said. He did both in 2010. But raising the threshold above 1 percent could have a chilling effect on good candidates who join a race late to give voters a choice, he said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.