County election redux: 2 winners lose their districts

Posted by Ralph Schwartz on November 13, 2013 

Republicans don't have a lot to hang their hats on after the Nov. 5 Whatcom County elections. They couldn't get Clayton Petree into the Bellingham City Council, and they were shut out of the Whatcom County Council races. They did fare well in two Port of Bellingham races, winning one and keeping the second one close.

This brought out some Monday morning quarterbacking from county Republican Chairman Charlie Crabtree, with whom I did an election post mortem over coffee and tea on -- that's right -- Monday morning, Nov. 11.

That same day he put out his own election analysis for those on his email list. It is pasted at the bottom of this post.

Crabtree pined for the good old days of 2005, when it was decided that County Council members would be elected only within their district, starting in 2007. This enabled rural candidates to win and provide better representation to rural constituents, Crabtree said.

Countywide voting in council races was reinstituted a few years later, Crabtree said, after a late-night vote of the council led by member Barbara Brenner.

It turns out that two of the three winners in the County Council elections who represent a district (Bill Knutzen and Rud Browne were vying for the at-large seat) would have lost if only the votes within their district counted.

Here are the alternate-reality vote counts (as of Saturday, Nov. 9) for Carl Weimer and Michelle Luke (District 3), Ken Mann and Ben Elenbaas (District 2), and Barry Buchanan and Kathy Kershner (District 1):


Weimer -- 9,525 (48%)   

Luke -- 10,179 (52%)


Mann -- 8,704 (41%)

Elenbaas -- 12,454 (59%)


Buchanan -- 15,772 (67%)

Kershner -- 7,787 (33%)


In District 3, Luke of Lummi Island defeated Weimer, who lives in the county east of Ferndale. You could make the argument that Luke happens to better represent the land-use preferences of rural voters, but geographically speaking she is no more rural than Weimer.

In District 2, Elenbaas of Van Dyk Road outside Lynden handily defeated Mann, who lives on E. Maryland Street in Bellingham. Rural vs. urban in that race, for sure. And in this alternate reality, the farmers do get their man.

In District 1, the Republican "if wishes were horses" approach to vote counting doesn't get them the desired result. District 1 happens to be dominated by south Bellingham precincts and the southern half of Whatcom County, which voted a strong progressive ticket.

Buchanan, incidentally, lives on D Street, less than a mile as the crow flies from the Mann home, even though that crow would have to cross a county district boundary. Kershner is also in Bellingham, although unlike Mann and Buchanan she is off Lakeway, outside the Interstate 5 beltway that hems in Bellingham's most liberal precincts.

You can read Crabtree's argument for district-only voting below. It was echoed in a letter to the editor that ran in The Bellingham Herald on Tuesday, Nov. 12:


     I believe it is a sad testament to the state of democracy in Whatcom County when two of the three individuals elected to represent specific districts on the County Council lost the popular vote in the district they are meant to represent. While losing their own district, votes from other districts were able to propel these individuals to victory. The idea that someone living in District 1 should vote on who represents District 3 is utterly undemocratic; it allows the viewpoints of a more populous or ideologically pure district to silence the voices and remove legitimate representation of other districts. How can Ken Mann claim to represent the interests of District 2 when his opponent, Ben Elenbaas won 58 percent of the district vote? How does Carl Weimer represent the people of District 3 when Michelle Luke won 52 percent? There can be no defense for this abridgement of fair representation. When District 1 decides the election for Districts 2 and 3, the winners need not a ccurately represent the interests of their own districts, but only the interests of District 1.

Matt K. Buys



Brenner stated her case against district-only voting in the run-up to the 2007 election, as reported at the time by Sam Taylor:


Print Run Date:  10/7/2007
Digital Run Date:   
Text:  District-only voting has critic; Council member says system leads to divisiveness




Whatcom County Council member Barbara Brenner may be running unopposed, but she's still out on the campaign trail and letting people know she's pretty peeved about district-only voting.

At a recent League of Women Voters forum speech, Brenner proclaimed that she was going to do her darnedest to get rid of the county's voting process, which allows voters in each of the three districts to vote only for those who represent their district.

Brenner, who represents District 3, said the district-only voting is causing an unnecessary and harmful divide between council members.

"Two things happening, " she told the League audience. "One is there are council members who say, 'I don't care, it's not in my district.' It's sort of a joke now, but it's not really funny."

She also said that she keeps hearing, "Butt out, Brenner, this isn't your district."

"It was disgusting that already it's having this kind of effect, " Brenner said in a telephone interview Friday.

She wants council members to be able to represent everyone, though she understands the intentions of those who sought the district-only approach in 2005. She said that some voters believed Bellingham was having too much say and sought fewer "liberals being in charge."

"I hate to talk about liberals or conservatives, and I'm a moderate, but there's a tendency in this county for more people to vote less conservatively, " she said.

Brenner said after the November election she'll begin looking at options to get rid of the system.

She's not sure how it can be done, but hopes residents will support her and persuade the other council members to go along, too.

"No voter has the ear of all the council members. They just don't, because of the district-only voting, " she said.



Here's Crabtree's email:





Coal Trains and MONEY Time to Move on.


Nov. 11th, 2013



November 5th Election Results by the numbers:

  • Over $1,000,000.00 Spent on both sides for Four County Council Races.
  • Average Turnout voting in each race (no under voters included)50.7% For the money not much over average.
  • Michelle Luke wins vote in Council 3rd District 51.6%
  • Ben Elenbaas wins vote in Council 2nd District 57.69%
  •     Elected NO: See below for details on this "Brenner" Effect
  • Republican Endorsed Candidates win by average 55.30% in Rural Whatcom County
  • Republican Endorsed Candidates win by 66% in the Small Towns.
  • Republican Endorsed Candidates take 54.32% of Legislative District 42 Votes.
  • Progressive Candidates with help from Bellingham-Chuckanut Conservatives take 70% of the City of Bellingham Vote.

So What Happened:

  1. Six races decided by an average difference of 2600 votes. 
  2. Central Bellingham voted 80% progressive, South( South of Fairhaven) turned 73% progressive.
  3.  Central Bellingham and South Bellngham "coal trains" concern showed up as most of the differences in the races for County Council.
  4. In  a countywide race Bellingham Vote needed to be 6 points more than it was for Republican Endorsed Candidates to winThe difference in this race may very well have been mostly coal train driven.  The irony is that coal trains will continue to vie their way north to Canada in spite of the progressive's best efforts to block these family wage jobs here in Whatcom County.
  5. What can we expect... Its rumored that Lisa McShane (behind the scenes of the Whatcom Wins winning candidates) states that the 3 member board in Olympia will not be challenged... that means higher septic and water taxes for the future and down zoning of thousands of rural land owners land; reducing their values.   More to follow.



Click Here to see the schedule for Whatcom County Council Meetings


City of Bellingham Council Meeting Schedule



Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree it that time of year again.  CRABTREE"S CHRISTMAS TREES TO OPEN THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING

We have Serbian Spruce and Canaan Fir, any Tree is $25.00

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Fridays and Mondays12:00 to 4:00PM Sat and Sun 10 to 4:00 PM

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SO Really Folks What is the "Brenner effect" and what does it mean?

My friend Barbara is going to love the attention

Barbara Brenner is a long time County council Member from the 3rd District North and West of Bellingham.


Its result is that Ken Mann and Carl Weimer have never been elected by those that live in their election district.

In this election large majorities of Rural and Small Town voters will not have a resident elected voice serving on their County Council.

In 2005 Voters in Whatcom County voted to elect their Representatives by the District where they reside instead of an "At-Large" County-wide Election.  The first election to be district only was 2007.


Five weeks after the 2007 election, led by Barbara Brenner, the council passed an ordinance to reverse the people's decision.  This ordinance was passed without hearing.  It was placed on the ballot and an uneducated public put "at large" voting back in place.


The November 5th election shows the "Brenner effect" of Ken Mann and Carl Weimer not getting a majority vote in the district they will end up representing.

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