Voice your choice, vote in the Aug. 5 primary

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 29, 2014 

Ballots for the Aug. 5 primary election arrive in mailboxes of registered voters throughout Whatcom County in just over two weeks.

Participating in elections may be more convenient in Washington than it is in all but two other states. After all - when you vote by-mail - the election comes right to your door. Even so, traditionally less than half of those ballots will be marked and returned.

Why don't more of those who can vote in the primary do so? Maybe they don't think it's as important as a general election. But it can be.

When there are three or more candidates for an office running in the August primary, voters determine which two will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Under our "top-two" system, the two candidates who win the most votes - regardless of their party preference - advance to the general election. It's possible for two candidates in the same party to be on the November ballot.

Ours is one of only three states with a similar system. It has its critics but it was proposed in an initiative in 2004 and 60 percent of Washington voters liked it well enough to adopt it.

For most of the 15 offices on this year's primary ballot there are already just two candidates or the candidate is unopposed. The primary will determine the final candidates in four races: U.S. Representative in both the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts; a vacant seat in the 42nd Washington House District, and one of three-members of the county public utility commission.

People we elect to these positions make decisions that affect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the roads we drive on, the taxes we pay, the education our children receive and the opportunities they have afterward. Is that a choice you really want to leave to others?

(Candidates for the 15-member Whatcom County Charter Review Commission are not on the primary ballot. They will be selected during the Nov. 4 general election.)

One of the reasons people give for not voting in the primary is "I really don't know enough about who's running. I'll just vote in November." As the saying goes, "There's an app for that."

The League of Women Voter's website, Vote411, at vote411.org is one online information source. After voters enter their addresses, they can access the names of candidates appearing on the ballot that they will actually receive.

Candidates answer questions on the issues important to the offices they seek. This allows voters to make side-by-side comparisons. Vote411 is scheduled to go online July 1.

The Whatcom County Auditor's Office mails the familiar Voters' Pamphlet to every Whatcom County household about the time ballots are sent on July 18. It contains statements from candidates for all offices. It will also be available online at whatcomcounty.us/auditor.

Of course, if you aren't registered, you can't vote. The good news is that there are still a few days left before the primary to change that.

If you're a Washington resident with a state driver's license or other state-issued ID, you can register online until July 7 at myvote.wa.gov. Mail-in forms are also available at public libraries throughout the county and at the Whatcom County Auditor's office, 311 Grand Ave.

If you're new to Washington state and have missed the July 7 deadline, you may still register until July 28. But you must appear in person at the auditor's office to do so. For questions about registration or any election question, you can email elections@co.whatcom.wa.us or call 360-676-6742.

The League of Women Voters of Bellingham/Whatcom County is a nonpartisan organization that encourages active and informed participation in government.

Your vote is your voice. So take that primary ballot, learn about the candidates, mark it and mail it back. Speak up for the men and women you want to represent you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jo Collinge is voter services chair for the League of Women Voters of Bellingham/Whatcom County.

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