Cyber-campaign garners attention for conservation district election

Islanders lined up to cast votes in the King Conservation District election. - Amelia Heagerty
Islanders lined up to cast votes in the King Conservation District election.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty

Editor's Note: See election results at the end of this article.

On Thursday, when a county conservation agency held an election for one of its board members, more than 30 times as many Vashon residents voted than in 2008 — suggesting a powerful get-out-the-vote campaign had swelled the Island’s numbers.

But Islanders reported that they hadn’t heard about the election from King Conservation District or the media. Most had gotten an e-mail from another Islander — part of a cyber-campaign spearheaded by government officials and local Democrats to bolster support for write-in candidate Mark Sollitto.

Because he failed to turn in a required form to be placed on the ballot, Sollitto was relegated to write-in status, but he didn’t give up his campaign. In fact, support for the environmentally friendly candidate came from as high up in King County government as County Council Chair Dow Constantine.

Perhaps in part because of support for Sollitto, the election saw its best turnout — by far — in the district’s 60 years of elections.

The highest turnout seen for an election choosing a King Conservation District board member was 1,000, said its executive director, Jeffrey Possinger. This year, more than 2,500 county residents voted.

The results of the election will not be available until after press time on Wednesday, according to Possinger.

On Vashon, the numbers are even more disparate: In last year’s election, six Islanders voted, Possinger said. This year, more than 200 weighed in. And their overwhelming preference appeared to be for write-in candidate Sollitto, according to voters at the library.

The Islanders standing in line to vote Thursday afternoon said they didn’t know much about Sollitto, other than that he came highly recommended by Constantine and other local officials and activists.

Some heard about the election via e-mail from members of the 34th District Democrats, who were vocal in their support of Sollitto.

“It is a government, tax-supported agency,” Ivan Weiss, chair of the 34th District Democrats, said of the conservation district. He helped mobilize voters, he said, “because the right wing got pretty well organized and got people out there, so we wanted to combat that with this write-in vote for Mark Sollitto.”

Sollitto has 30 years experience in conservation and land use, including having worked for a salmon recovery forum and a county program that aims to “preserve land and relocate development growth away from rural areas and into urban areas,” according to the King County Web site.

Sollitto, and the two candidates listed on the ballot — Preston Drew and David Mauk, both of whom have been characterized as property rights candidates — are vying for a seat that is not insignificant.

The winner of the election will take a place on the district’s five-member volunteer board, overseeing a tax-funded agency that focuses on environmental conservation and education.

On Vashon, the district has been responsible for workshops on a variety of topics and has funded grants for environmental projects.

According to an e-mail Constantine sent out last week, King Conservation District is also “a vital partner in regionwide efforts to improve the health of the Green/Duwamish and Central Puget Sound watershed,” as well as a provider of leadership, assistance and funding to landowners who want to help protect public resources — assisting landowners in establishing conservation easements on their property, for example.

Given the district’s public nature and its importance to many Islanders, some complained that its election wasn’t publicized well enough, but Possinger said he thinks this year’s statistics speak for themselves.

“We’ve more than doubled the number of people turning out,” he said. “The efforts we’ve had in getting the word out have worked.”

But some were passionate about the election, both because they preferred neither candidate listed on the ballot and because they hadn’t been given much notice.

“I’m voting because it wasn’t announced,” said Cindy Matusky as she stood in line to vote on Thursday. “I feel like we should at least have a vote. We pay taxes.”

Election results

Preston Drew of Carnation was elected to a three-year term on the King Conservation District board this week. He received 1,357 votes; David Mauk of Carnation received 175 votes; and write-in candidate Mark Sollitto of Seattle received 1,199 votes.

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