Duvall farmer elected to King Conservation District board

March 17, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 6 p.m. March 17, 2011

King Conservation District voters elected Duvall farmer Eric Nelson to the board of supervisors in a pioneering online election, although turnout dropped sharply from the last district election in 2010.

The contest concluded Tuesday night, and conservation district officials announced the results Thursday afternoon.

Nelson bested Kent farmer Bruce Elliott, Redmond real estate agent Teri Herrera and Sammamish retiree Preston Prudente to secure the open seat for a three-year term. Nelson is scheduled to assume office at the Washington State Conservation Commission meeting in May.

The election attracted 2,299 voters — a decline from 4,232 people in the last district election in March 2010. Officials had hoped the option for voters to cast electronic ballots online, instead of traveling to polling locations scattered throughout the county, might boost turnout.

The district offered a traditional polling site in Renton for 12 hours Tuesday.

“The 2011 election was an important building block for future online elections held by the district,” district board Chairman Bill Knutsen said in a statement. “In the long term, we believe online voting remains the best option to broaden voter participation in the King Conservation District election process.”

Nelson received 1,292 votes in the unofficial results released Thursday. Elliott received 820 votes to rank as the No. 2 candidate, followed by Herrera, Prudente and a handful of write-in votes.

Nelson received key endorsement from the Sierra Club, Washington Conservation Voters and elected officials, including King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert.

King County Elections did not administer district elections. Rather, the district retained Bellevue-based Election Trust and Scytl USA to coordinate the balloting.

“We understand the two-step process of confirming a voter’s eligibility, followed by voting, was a new experience for voters participating in their first online election,” said Knutsen. “In the end the process provided the best means for election security and integrity.”

District board members handle a $6.5 million budget and offer guidance to staff members and for district programs. Supervisors also help to identify critical conservation needs in the district and seek feedback about conservation programs from district residents.

The all-volunteer board includes three elected members and a pair of supervisors appointed by the Washington State Conservation Commission. Both elected and appointed supervisors serve three-year terms.

Landowners fund the district through a $10-per-parcel assessment fee. Though the district receives some funding from the state conservation commission — plus King County, state and federal grants — state legislators do not allocate dollars to the agency.

The board administers conservation projects and other programs throughout the 62-year-old district.

In Issaquah, the district infused more than $320,000 into the project to restore a key stretch along Issaquah Creek in Squak Valley Park North. Crews completed the long-planned habitat-restoration project late last year.

The district also offered a series of workshops dedicated to eco-conscious housekeeping and landscaping in Issaquah last spring.

In addition to Issaquah, the district includes all of King County except for Enumclaw, Federal Way, Milton, Pacific and Skykomish.

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