County oversight leads to primary mix-up

There will be no primary election for a Vashon Park District commissioner race with three candidates, King County Elections announced last week.

There will be no primary election for a Vashon Park District commissioner race with three candidates, King County Elections announced last week.

Elections officials previously believed the race among Bill Ameling, Scott Harvey and Peter Ray called for an August primary where the top two vote earners would move on to the November general election. A public debate was planned on Vashon, and Elections even included the primary race on absentee ballots mailed on June 19.

After that, however, King County Elections realized an oversight, said Kim Van Ekstrom, a spokeswoman for the agency. According to a state law enacted in 2013, no primary can be held for the office commissioner of a park and recreation district.

Van Ekstrom was unsure why the law was put in place, but said Elections overlooked it because it is rare for races at small agencies such as park districts to draw more than two candidates.

Now, all three candidates will run for the seat, Position 5, in the general election in November.

“It’s a plain old mistake, and it’s something we rarely see,” Van Ekstrom said.

The Vashon Park District and the three candidates were notified on last week. Van Ekstrom said the online voters guide was also quickly fixed, and the regular ballots and paper voters guide had not yet been printed. More than 100 absentee voters from Vashon will receive letters explaining the error, and if they do vote in the primary, it simply won’t count, Van Ekstrom said.

“Instead it will just appear on the general election ballot,” she said of the race.

Three seats on the park board are up for election this fall. In May, after candidates filed, Ray told The Beachcomber that he filed for Position  5 not because he wanted to compete against Harvey, an incumbent, but because several people who watch the park district were paying attention to who had filed and wanted to ensure that if Ameling also filed, he would be faced with a primary election. Ameling, who currently sits in another position, was the last candidate to file for Position 5. The two other seats have two candidates each.

In an interview last week, Ray said he wasn’t too concerned about the mistake and was unsure if it would change the outcome of the election.

“It’ll make it a little more interesting, maybe ramp up some kind of campaign,” he said.

Harvey, however, said he was disappointed by the turn of events.

“Based upon this arrangement, someone who could never win in a two-person race could easily win in a three-person race,” he said.

Ameling, in an email, noted that the park district will save money by not holding a primary election.

“I am running against two people who have distinct opinions and I offer a different view,” he said. “The voters will have clear choices between the three of us.”

A public debate sponsored by Voice of Vashon and The Beachcomber had been planned for July 8, and all three candidates had agreed to participate. Hilary Emmer, one of the debate organizers, said the event has been called off. Instead, all seven park board candidates will be invited to participate in a debate later this year.

“I was really looking forward to this debate,” Emmer said. “I really think because of everything that’s happened and the VES Fields, right now a debate is very timely.”

Ballots will be mailed on July 16 for the Aug. 4 primary election. The only issues to go before Vashon voters will be two Port of Seattle commissioner races and a three-way race for King County’s Director of Elections.


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