County auditor answers why a race with two candidates is on primary ballots

  • Fri Jul 27th, 2018 11:01am
  • News

By Milene Henley

San Juan County Auditor

This year’s primary election is generating a lot of questions. That’s not unusual; election cycles are long – four years between elections for most positions – and it’s easy to forget what a particular type of election looks like. But this year there really are some new and unusual things going on.

The question we have heard most often this year is: “Why is the prosecuting attorney race on the ballot when there are only two candidates?” The answer lies in state law. All partisan positions in the state appear on both the primary (August) and the general (November) ballots. That rule applies not only when there are two candidates, but also when there is only one candidate. Four years ago, when the prosecutor was unopposed, that race still appeared on the primary ballot.

By contrast, nonpartisan offices appear in the primary only if there are three or more candidates. The confusing thing in San Juan County is that the prosecutor is the only partisan office, and therefore the only local office to appear in the primary. When the county’s charter was adopted, and all other elected positions in the county were made nonpartisan, it was believed that the prosecuting attorney could not be nonpartisan. Since then, the Washington State Attorney General has issued an opinion clarifying that the prosecuting attorney can be a nonpartisan office. It would require a change in the county’s charter to make that change in San Juan County.

Another surprising thing about this primary election is the large number of candidates for state senator. Although it does not come close to the 135 who ran for Governor of California in 2003, 29 candidates is still a lot. It challenged elections staff to design a ballot that makes it clear that all candidates are in a single race, and that voters get to vote for only one of them. That’s why the ballot this election is an unusual 8 1/2-inch by 17-inch size.

The long ballot has a very important second side. That long list of senate candidates not only required special paper, it also pushed local issues to the back of the ballot.

On the back, Lopez voters will find a measure to pay for “educational programs and operational support.” This is the district’s last chance to renew its existing levy before the state assumes school levies next year. Make sure you don’t miss the second page!

But the biggest change in this year’s primary election is not on the ballot – it’s on the return envelope. For both the primary election, in August, and general election, in November, this year, a grant from the Washington State Secretary of State is paying for the cost of return postage. So, yes, that means you can drop the return envelope in the mail and forget about it. No searching for stamps, no driving to town to drop it in the ballot drop box. Just put it in your mailbox, raise the red flag and done. Of course, we will still be picking up from the ballot boxes, and on San Juan Island, the ballot box is still the fastest way to have your envelope picked up and given credit for voting. On Orcas and Lopez, however, where the ballot boxes are not emptied daily, the prepaid postage may get your envelope delivered sooner. And on Election Day, Aug. 7, the ballot boxes will be open until 8 p.m., but the post offices close early in the afternoon.

However, when returning ballots, the important thing is to “vote it, sign it, send it.” Make your voice count.

For info, visit the voters’ guide at Or call the elections office at 360-378-3357 or, for assistance.