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School officials like February ballot and other election notes

Screenshot of February 2024 Spokane County Voters' Pamphlet

Voters in 36 of Washington’s 39 counties have special elections on Tuesday. The Secretary of State’s office says almost 240 measures will be on the ballot statewide.

In most places, the ballot measures are school-related. Many districts across eastern Washington, including 17 in Spokane County, are running maintenance-and-operations levies and asking local property owners to supplement the basic education funds they collect from the state.

Several districts are also running capital levies to pay for facilities, technology, safety and other needs. In Spokane County, Spokane, Cheney, Deer Park, Riverside and West Valley are proposing bond issues for building projects.

The city of Spokane is floating a levy to help fund library services. It is also asking voters to amend the city charter to adopt changes in the way the city adjusts its political boundaries every 10 years.

Fire districts in Spokane and Stevens counties are asking their patrons for property tax money. Fire District 2 wants to annex the town of Fairfield into its coverage area. Lincoln County’s hospital district has a levy and the Ritzville School District is asking voters for permission to change the make up of its school board.

Voters in Asotin and Garfield county have nothing on the ballot.

You must return your ballots to drop boxes or county elections’ offices by 8 p.m. Tuesday or have them mailed and postmarked by Tuesday.

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February and March are traditional months for school levy and bond elections in Washington. That used to be true in Idaho too. But last year, the legislature eliminated its March option.

Idaho legislators decided last year that school districts should run their money-related issues during the elections with the largest turnouts, the primary in May and the general in November.

Idaho superintendents complained because they liked having the early year ballot to themselves. Washington superintendents like it too.

“There’s advantages in that this is the only thing people are voting on versus your November election as a general election. You have all the legislative pieces, all the councils and everybody else that are, commissioners, etc., along with other potential tax measures that are there," said Nine Mile Falls Superintendent Jeff Baerwald.

Freeman Superintendent Randy Russell says the February date is good because he has all the financial information he needs to sell a levy to voters.

“I know right now what the assessed valuation of the property is in Freeman and I know what the tax rate is, so I can go to a homeowner and I can say, ‘Well, here’s exactly what you’re going to be paying for the levy in Freeman for your property," he said.

Central Valley Superintendent John Parker says there’s a benefit to having all of the school districts running their measures at the same time. It gets the whole community thinking about schools and how they’re financed.

Ultimately, the month of the election doesn’t matter much if school districts do a lousy job making their cases, Riverside Superintendent Ken Russell said.

“It’s on us to make sure that we build trust. That’s the first thing. Spend taxpayer money wisely, don’t overspend, but also build trust on a day-to-day basis over time.”

A few superintendents say they would consider running bonds and levies in November, especially if their February measures fail.

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Washington cities and counties may soon have the option of moving local elections to even-numbered years.

Elections in Washington are generally segregated so that state and federal offices are decided in even-numbered years. Local races are decided in odd-numbered years.

The state House voted 52-45 last week to give local governments the option of moving their elections to even-numbered years, which generally have higher turnout.

“This is about giving cities and all of our local jurisdictions the opportunity to opt-in to a timing that works better for them, their constituents. This is about saving money. This is about a slow, methodical, smart way to make sure, proven by data, that two and three times more people will definitely vote," said South Seattle Democrat Mia Gregerson, the bill's prime sponsor.

Though the bill passed the House, at least two Democrats voted with Republicans against it. One of the Republicans who spoke against it on the House floor was Spokane Valley Representative Leonard Christian. Christian noted Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton, a Democrat, does not support the change. He says Dalton told him that putting combining two years' worth of races into one year would cause logistical problems for elections offices.

"At some point, by eliminating these other elections, it will make the ballot so long that they may be required to buy new machines to process the new ballots," he said.

In some cases, he says, ballots may, by necessity, be extended to two pages, which could cause issues in terms of keeping votes private and secure.

The legislation is also opposed by Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, a Democrat.

The bill now moves to the state Senate, where it is scheduled for a hearing in the State Government and Elections Committee on Friday morning.

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In March, Washington voters will cast ballots for presidential candidates in the state’s primary election. That’s for registered voters 18 and older.

But students around the state, from kindergarten through 12th grade, will be allowed to have their say as well.

Secretary of State Steve Hobbs’ office is again sponsoring a mock election, allowing students from kindergarten through 12th grade the chance to go through the process of casting ballots for one of the presidential candidates.

“I think it’s a great tool for young people to get excited about elections. They get to see how it actually works. They will see a ballot that their parents will have and maybe that’ll apply some pressure on the parents to vote as well," he said.

Teachers can download ballots, tabulation sheets, voters’ pamphlets and other material from the Secretary of State’s website. Students can also earn “I Voted” stickers.

For students too young to vote for presidential candidates, the office says it will provide an alternate ballot that asks kids to choose their favorite season and whether pineapple should be added to pizzas.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.