Issaquah School District opted not to include levy information in voters’ guide
January 22, 2010
NEW — 12:40 p.m. Jan. 22, 2010
The voters’ pamphlet mailed by King County Elections baffled Issaquah School District voters when the guide arrived in mailboxes earlier in the week. The mailer contained no information about the three district levies on the Feb. 9 ballot.
The lack of information, however, was not a mistake. District officials opted not to include information in the guide to save money.
But the pamphlets confused voters because the elections office included information about other school districts’ ballot measures. Klahanie voters, for instance, received pamphlets with information about the Vashon Island School District levy.
Kim van Ekstrom, a spokeswoman for the elections office, said the format resulted from another money-saving measure. Without local items on the ballot, the office sent the same guides to various ZIP codes to cut costs.
Guides sent to voters in the Issaquah district contained information about the King County Library System levy lid lift, a countywide item on the February ballot. The school district stretches from Sammamish to Newcastle, and includes Klahanie, Preston and other parts of unincorporated King County.
For primary and general elections, the county publishes a voters’ pamphlet. The elections office automatically includes information about ballot items in primary and general election guides.
But the rules for a special election — like the Feb. 9 contest — differ. The elections office does not automatically produce a voters’ guide, and rules do not require governments to include information in the pamphlet.
For the information to be included in a special election pamphlet, the governing authority of a jurisdiction must request the information to be published, and then pay the printing cost. The district saved about $7,000 with the decision to opt out of the pamphlet, district Communications Director Sara Niegowski said.
Although the printed voters’ pamphlet contains no information about the Issaquah levies, van Ekstrom encouraged voters to make a personalized guide at the elections office Web site. Create a guide here.
Issaquah district voters also questioned why the pamphlets included information about other districts’ levies. But other districts with items on the Feb. 9 could overlap within the same ZIP code. Voters in unincorporated King County south of Issaquah received a guide with information about the nearby Tahoma School District’s levies.
After Issaquah School Board members decided last fall to send the levies to voters, and then delivered the ballot language to the elections office, elections officials asked if the district wanted to include information in the voters’ pamphlet. District officials declined.
Elections Director Sherril Huff sent a letter to district officials Dec. 11 to confirm receipt of the ballot items. Huff reminded the district of the Dec. 23 deadline to submit information for the voters’ pamphlet.
Niegowski said schools officials decided against putting information in the guide because the district communicates with parents, students and staffers in many other ways, like the FOCUS newsletter.
The levy package put on the ballot by Issaquah officials includes a $172.5 million maintenance and operations levy, a $1.7 million transportation levy, and a $38.4 million technology and critical repairs levy.
Taxpayers would pay $4.81 for every $1,000 of assessed property for the levies and the remainder of the 2006 bond, if the Feb. 9 measures pass.
Organizers at Volunteers for Issaquah Schools, the nonprofit running the pro-levy campaign, said they have received e-mails and calls from voters who asked why the guides did not include information about the local measures.
Volunteers for Issaquah Schools Co-Chairwoman Kelly Munn said district officials have opted not to run information about measures in special-election voters’ pamphlets for several years.
“The real deal is we’re never in it,” she said. “We haven’t been in it for multiple elections, but as a person and a campaign manager I thought we were. I didn’t know.”
Munn said the decision not to include the information disappointed her, because Volunteers for Issaquah Schools members worked to engage the community and encourage voters to support the levy.
“Some districts run stealth campaigns. We don’t. That’s why we’ve been working so hard to talk to the community,” she said. “To not put it in the voters’ pamphlet makes it look like were doing something or makes it look like we’re hiding something. We’re not.”
Issaquah City Councilwoman Maureen McCarry, a member of the district levy committee, said she was concerned by the lack of information in the voters’ guide.
“It’s very, very important to get voter turnout,” McCarry said.
Elections officials estimate 35 percent voter turnout in the all-mail election, but Munn said she doubts the questions about the pamphlet will jeopardize the pro-levy campaign.
“I don’t think we’ll be hurt. We will be fine, as evidence when we did the phone banking, it was unusually supportive,” she said.