Task force crafts VMICC voting proposal

A community task force, concerned about the degree to which the Vashon Maury Island Community Council (VMICC) board represents the diverse interests of the Island, has crafted a proposal on how voting should occur for the nine board seats this fall.

The group is exploring whether the council should finance mail-in ballots for the Island in light of King County’s gradual shift towards mail-in balloting for all elections — an approach that would cost the community council between $1,250 and $2,200.

Another option, according to the group, is to have balloting occur at a few polling places, as it does now, and “blitz” the Island about the availability of absentee ballots — which would cost around $500.

The group is also looking at instituting what’s called rank-choice voting, where voters rank the candidates they prefer rather than just marking a box for each one they like.

Proponents say the approach — which has strong advocates in the electoral reform movement — would better ensure the council represents the Island’s diverse interests and constituencies. Critics say there are flaws in the system and that tabulation is more difficult.

Both issues will come before community council members next Monday, where all those present over the age of 18 will be able to vote on the task force’s proposal.

Hilary Emmer, a member of the community council’s board, said she undertook the effort because she’s long been concerned about the Island’s level of engagement with the council and the degree to which the board represents people who hold minority views.

When she asked a Republican to get involved recently, for instance, the woman, she said, responded: “Why would I want to have anything to do with the community council? They’re so rude to me.”

What’s more, few people vote for community council seats, Emmer noted. Two years ago, during the last election, 850 people cast ballots for the positions; the number of Islanders who can vote — anyone age 18 or over, whether they’re a registered voter or not — is close to 8,000, according to the 2000 census.

“The more people who vote, the more who might run and come to the meetings or volunteer for committees,” she said. “It could make the council more viable and more meaningful.”

The others on the task force are Melvin Mackey, Shirley Bushnell and Roger Fulton.

The four, who have been working for several weeks on the issue, disagree on ranked-choice vs. plurality voting, the name for the approach when someone checks a box for all of the candidates he or she prefers rather than ranks them. Fulton and Mackey strongly endorse ranked-choice voting as the council’s official balloting approach. Emmer and Bushnell, concerned about the complexities of the approach and how hard it could be for some to rank candidates, support plurality voting.

But all the members of the task force say they want to see the council more fully represent the Island’s various constituencies.

Said Fulton, “Every voice deserves representation on the council. With a board as large as nine members, there’s certainly enough room to represent minority position.”

The community council is one of six in the region. Called unincorporated area councils, they were created a decade ago to provide a way for county government to better connect to people in its more rural reaches, those who don’t have another local governing body representing their interests.

The councils don’t have any legislative or executive power and are merely advisory. But they do have the power of influence, some say; and in contentious county issues, policymakers and elected officials will often view the opinions of the community council as the best reflection of the community’s stance.

Vashon’s community council, chaired by Jim English, functions as a town hall-style forum. The agenda is set by the nine-member board at its executive meetings, which take place at 7:15 p.m. on the first Monday of each month; the membership meetings occur at 7:30 p.m. on the third Monday of the month.

Both meetings are held at Courthouse Square and are open to all Islanders.

Emmer, who joined the council seven months ago to fill a seat left vacate when Marilyn Omey passed away, said she believes the community council can be a vital force on the Island, especially if it brings diverse perspectives together.

Just working on the balloting issue, she said, has reminded her of the strength that comes from confronting an issue head on and working out differences.

“The more people who know we can band together, the more we can make this community what we want,” she said. “But if it’s just going to be a handful of people, it’s not really worth doing anything, because it just becomes self-serving.”

“I think conflict is healthy, because only out of conflict can new ideas emerge,” she added.

Please box:

Community council members will vote on the following proposal at the VMICC meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 18.

How should we cast our votes for the Board of the VMICC?

A) Vote at the polling places, as we do now, and blitz the island that absentee ballots are available. The cost would be about $500.

B) Have an all mail ballot election, with one or two polling places for election day in person voting. This would cost in the range of $1,250 to $2,200.

There are 6,369 addresses and PO boxes on the Island. If we vote by mail, for ballot integrity, should we:

A) Send ballots out WITH a return envelope requiring name and address of voter (cost: $2,200)?

B) Send ballots out WITHOUT a return envelope and not cross reference the re turned ballots (cost: $1,250)?

Should we include on-line voting as a option?

A) Yes

B) No

If 10 or more candidates are on the ballot, how should we cast our ballots?

A) Plurality voting

B) Ranked choice voting

If nine or fewer candidates are on the ballot, how should we cast our ballots?

A) Plurality voting

B) Cancel the election and declare all candidates elected

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