Rick Bannan / firstname.lastname@example.org
Clark County voters are set to see another round of amendments to the county’s government document next year as a 15-member commission elected to identify potential changes approved putting six measures on the ballot for November.
During its Dec. 8 meeting, the Clark County Charter Review Commission approved the measures to go to a vote of the people in 2022. The approval follows this year’s November election where voters approved six of seven changes to the county charter.
During the meeting, commissioners spent a great deal of time discussing two of the six in particular, one of which is similar to the one of seven measures put in front of voters this year. Apart from measures that deal with requiring a public meeting to include other elected executive positions while choosing a new Clark County manager, creating a preamble for the charter, adding language to the charter regarding vacancies of elected executive positions and adjusting requirements for the county’s initiative and referendum process, commissioners spoke at length for both the establishment of a diversity, equity and inclusion officer and commission as well as allowing for ranked-choice voting in countywide elections.
If approved, the ranked-choice ballot measure would allow voters to rank candidates based on preference. Though she supported implementing ranked-choice voting in the county, charter review commission secretary Kelsey Potter said she feared placing it on the 2022 ballot would result in the measure’s failure. Potter said the success of the commission’s proposals this year only occurred because of an “intense, educational push to voters” to ensure people understood what the measures entailed.
“Something like (ranked-choice voting), that requires a lot of public education. I feel that we are setting it up for failure,” Potter said.
The commission will disband by the time voters make a decision on the new amendments, so she said proponents for the measure would have to form their own educational component to do the work the commission did the prior year.
“I have nothing against ranked-choice voting. I think it’s got a lot of merits,” commission co-chair Chuck Green said.
He, alongside Potter, cautioned that a failure of the measure could result in subsequent attempts also failing.
“Pierce County did that 15 years ago,” Green said. “It failed and it has not come back.”
Green felt a switch to ranked-choice voting should be a statewide initiative.
Commissioner Anthony Vendetti believed the process leading up to the vote the commission saw encouraged many “driven and decided community members” who would once again fulfil the educational component.
“I think that they can succeed in that (education),” Vendetti said.
Commissioner Dorothy Gasque said ranked-choice voting led to the most public comment the commission has received on any charter issues it has encountered. She said dozens of organizations statewide in support of the measure would be able to inform voters.
“I don’t think we’re going to have any issue with people helping to educate the people to get this amendment passed,” Gasque said. “At the end of the day, our opinions and what we feel about ranked choice voting don’t matter. We are not here to push our own opinions. … We are here to give the voters a choice to vote on this.”
Commissioner Maureen Winningham said if approved, ranked-choice voting would only be implemented in county races, leaving city, state and federal-level races as one-candidate contests.
“I love this idea … but I want it done in a very consistent way,” Winningham said.
She added the potential cost for educational resources on the measure also gave her pause on supporting the measure as is.
Commissioner Terri Niles pointed to Clark County being a home rule charter government, stressing its autonomy in coming up with decisions on how it runs.
“That’s why waiting for a state option does not apply to us,” Niles said.
Placing the measure on the ballot passed by an 11 to 4 vote.
Another amendment approved to go on the 2022 ballot would establish a diversity and inclusion officer position and a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Commission. The measure received a mixed vote with only nine approving it, while three people abstained.
The measure is similar to the single amendment that failed in November of this year. It would have established an entire diversity and inclusion department at the county level. That measure only received about 43.8% of the vote.
Green said it would be a “huge risk” to put a similar measure back onto the ballot. Commissioner John Latta agreed.
“I think putting (the measure) on the ballot again will appear to say that we do not respect the voters’ opinion,” Latta said.
Other commissioners like Vendetti pointed to a greater need for the proposed positions.
“I am here to represent our community and ensure our government is working well for everyone in it. So I can’t choose to sit idly by while members of our community are further disenfranchised because they are not the majority,” Vendetti said.
Commissioner Terri Niles referenced comments they have heard from local groups including the NAACP of Vancouver, whose president she said addressed the commission.
“When you have that kind of statement from someone like that, just saying ‘well no, I think it’s too early or it’s too soon or the voters have spoken,’ I think is not doing your job as a commissioner representing this community,” Niles said.