Posted by: sweeneyblog | March 17, 2015

Turnout Matters: Joy, Satpal and why District Only Voting is Short-Sighted

If you haven’t heard, local Republican party officer Larry Helm bested long-time farming advocate Joy Monjure in the race for Whatom Conservation District supervisor. The race was close, with Helm squeaking by with 86 votes more than Monjure, while 265 ballots were ruled invalid.

Councilman Satpal Sidhu

Councilman Satpal Sidhu

Just twenty-four hours later, Monjure’s fellow legislative candidate, Satpal Sidhu was appointed to the County Council to fill out the remainder of Sam Crawford’s term. This appointment is historic as Sidhu will be the first Sikh member of the County Council, where a century ago the Sikh’s were expelled from this County in a vicious racist riot.

This appointment was made possible by the four solid Democratic votes (Weimer, Mann, Buchanan and Browne), who were swept into office by the record turnout in the 2013 elections. Retiring councilman Pete Kremen also voted for Sidhu while Barbara Brenner, continuing her Kiwi-ish trends, voted for Jim Cozad.

So what does this all mean? How are these two connected? Consider this:

The total number of people voting is rapidly becoming the number one indicator over whether an election goes liberal or conservative.

When more people vote, the vote usually swings towards team Blue. When there are factors that limit participation, the vote goes to team Red.

Returning to the Whatcom Conservation District election. Ballots were not mailed to every possible voter in late October, ballots had to be requested or you had to vote in person in a strange little office in the middle of March. With so many limiting factors, only around 4,000 people voted and the vote went conservative.

You can see this in national trends. Presidential election years bring waves of Democratic legislators while off-years bring conservatives. With the current demographic trends, it is difficult to imagine a Republican taking back the White House in 2016 (although Democrats can always be relied upon to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory . . . see Hillary Clinton circa 2008). However, they will contend with an ever-more conservative Congress.

The national Republican party has tried to exaggerate this effect by implementing draconian “Voter ID” laws to make it more difficult for registered voters to cast a ballot. They close down polling places in poor neighborhoods, limit early voting opportunities and fight tooth and nail against mail-in balloting. In short, they use their positions of power to block people from voting.

You mentioned District Only voting at the beginning of this, Riley, and that was really the reason I clicked on the link. Hold on, imaginary reader, I’m getting there.

Since 2013, Whatcom County conservatives realized they cannot win county-wide when turnout is high. I don’t believe this is actually true, but that is the message they took away from the thumping they received. As a result, they worked hard to elect a Tea Party flavored County Charter Review commission so they could institute district only voting.

As I illustrated in my early post about their efforts, District Only voting will not have a big impact on the ideological make-up of the council. Ken Mann will have a very competitive race in 2017, but again, it depends on turnout. The conservatives have already started thumping the drum, saying they aren’t represented, but if you can only persuade a narrow wedge of the population that your candidate is the best, perhaps you need to examine what your party is doing and saying that is driving away voters.



Already, the conservatives have begun to thump the drum, fearing a political future decided by scary things like . . .  gasp . . . students! SAVEWhatcom, the coal-funded political action committee in town, posted this in the wake of Sidhu’s appointment, “No votes went to former County Councilperson Kathy Kershner even though Diatrict 2 (sic) is well known as the most conservative district in the county, and Ms. Kershner was the only conservative who applied to fulfill Coucilperson Crawfords term.”

Judy Kyllingmark commented on that same SAVEWhatcom post, “I hope the charter review members can change the charter so we in Whatcom Co can be represented by people from our own district NOT those voted in by Bellingham (WWU).” Because clearly, it wouldn’t be fair if those living in Bellingham who pay County taxes and were allowed to vote for the people who spend their tax dollars.

The irony here is that District 2 is pretty liberal when it turns out to vote. It elected Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012. With the growing Latino population in Lynden and the growing trend for young families to move to the county, District 2 will continue to become more liberal.

While Conservatives can try to limit the number of people who vote, they will continue to miss out on the big picture: they are losing touch with the general populace. Already polls conducted by national Republicans show that young voters find conservative ideas in general and the Republican brand specifically to be toxic.

SAVEWhatcom and the local conservatives can whine and complain that they aren’t being represented, but to be represented, you have to convince a majority of people that your ideas are worth their vote. Trying to keep people from voting may work in the short term, but it is only delaying the inevitable. Please, consider trying to compete for people’s votes rather than deny them the right to vote.



  1. Not surprising. The Republican playbook across the country is to make the country’s government less and less representative as they become less and less representative of its people.

    That they would bemoan the appointment of an experienced, pro-business moderate that easily reflects the County’s values (and, increasingly, the values of his district) over someone who while a very amiable person has actually been rejected by the voters at the polls is symptomatic of this problem.

    Instead of changing policies or candidates to make them more in line with the electorate, they’d rig the electorate to make it more in line with their candidates. District-only voting is only the latest, local example of this nationwide trend toward voter suppression and gerrymandering.

    • District only voting is the American way.

  2. Fear Democracy!

    • Democracy is mob rule!

  3. I have to disagree on district only votng. If Bellingham (Isn’t that in a district?) pays taxes, they can elect a representative. If I am going to have a representative for my district, then I think I should be the one choosing that representative, not Bellingham. The whole county voting for district reps makes as much sense as the whole state voting for US Representatives. Granted, I’d like to see people like Suzan DelBene represent all parts of the state, but that wouldn’t be true representation. I’m probably almost as Liberal as many Democrats (I consider myself independent) but if we aren’t going to elect by district, why have districts? A while back, the feeling was that Bellingham thought they “Owned” Whatcom County. That led to a move to form Pioneer and Independence counties. We got away from that mindset, I thought, but I see it rearing up around the edges.

  4. It makes more sense for the Whatcom Conservation Distict election to be run by the county auditor like all other county elections. First, it would be better publicized, and second, it would be properly funded. The WCD has next to no budget to cover the costs of this election.

    Even the county Republican Chairman Charlie Crabtree agrees. “I’m all for this election going through the Auditor’s Office,” Crabtree said.

  5. District only voting is just another way of gerrymandering that is already out of control and needs to be brought back in line. It is not City vs County. If districts were created that actually represented population with pie shaped wedges with Bellingham and the county in each district rather than the cookie cutter mess we have now as a result of politics we would have a political parties having too big a say in district design, they more closely resembled the wishes of the majority of people and not the wishes of just a few.

    • Maybe housing needs to be pie-shaped also.

  6. Yep – It sure is a shame when more and more people get their heads out of their asses and vote for their own interests instead of voting for the interests of the rich folks. Damn!

    • “asses”-such language that Riley allows vs. Julie S.

      The poor mirgant worker has spoken, praise be to Karl & Friederich.

  7. Riley, here we go again. You are smarter than this. Your bias towards Democrats blinds you, and if left unchecked, eliminates you from being a serious political journalist.

    If I follow your enthusiastic embrace of at large voting, the US House of Representatives should be at large voting too. This is not a principled position that is good for the country. This is a temporary position that you will change in a heartbeat when conservatives have some upper hand.

    A more principled position is that everyone needs to feel represented, and if people think that Bellingham elects the representatives for Lynden or other small communities
    , they will feel that they have no representation.

    Everyone needs to feel represented. If you have good ideas, you should have nothing to fear.

    • False analogy Doug. Local is unique to its situation. Federal
      is on a different scale.

    • And once again, you start off your comment with a string of insults – always a good way to begin the conversation.

      Doug, I believe that the people of Lynden deserve to be represented, and I’m really glad that Satpal Sidhu, a Lynden resident, devout man of faith and local businessman is on the council representing their values.

      My problem is that the local conservatives are working to reduce the number of people voting because they can’t win when more people vote. That’s what is shameful here.

      • The primaries are district-only, so what is wrong or unfair about the residents of the district (those that bother to vote, to be precise) select the top two finalists, with the county as a whole voting for the winner in the general election? The council must represent both the folks in their district, but also many times (most?) they weigh in on issues that deal with the whole county. Seems to me the present system works best.

      • Riley my observations of your writing style are accurate. Your prose drips with your bias. “Draconian voter ID laws”. Producing a drivers licenses is draconian?

        The guillotine is draconian.

        I love your observations, but I think you would attract more readers if you toned down your Democratic bias. You can write every article and take out the bias, and gain readers.

        Gerrymandering and district voting are not one and the same. Eliminating gerrymandering by eliminating district voting is a loser.

        Our Founding Fathers discussed this at some length.

        Just think of the uproar from all the small population areas of Washington if all the Federal House of Representatives were elected at large. If at-large voting is such a good idea, why not spread it to the Federal level.

        There are good reasons why not, and I am not seeing a serious discussion of this here.

        You want Democrats to win, but that is not journalism. This is political punditry.

        I am an independent, but I think Satpal is an excellent choice.

        You see when I go to the polls, I try and support the best candidate possible.

        When was the last time you voted for a Republican?

      • I voted for Jon Mutchler and Karl Uppiano last year for Charter Review. I regularly support Republicans that I think are the best fit for the position

  8. Congratulations Satpal!!!! You will do a great job on the council look forward to working with you on issues that the city and county need to work together
    on for the future of this wonderful county we all live in.

  9. “Returning to the Whatcom Conservation District election. Ballots were not mailed to every possible voter in late October, ballots had to be requested or you had to vote in person in a strange little office in the middle of March. With so many limiting factors, only around 4,000 people voted and the vote went conservative”-are you saying that progressives are lazy and have to be spoon fed? They could have gotten off their duffs, picked up their phones and requested a ballot too. Maybe it was the cost of stamp that was a problem. Next time will let them use one of their food stamps for postage. 🙂

    • Wayne – I think you have S&H Green stamps confused with food “stamps.” It might be a good idea to update your calendar to 2015, instead of being stuck in 1964. Now that it is March, you can find new calendars at a discounted price, sometimes for a dollar or two – about the price of a pack of golf tees.

      The last time I used S&H Green stamps was right around 1962, when we got our first toaster. Before then we laid the bread (homemade every Saturday of course) on top of the wood stove. It was my job to watch the toast. When I had to do bigger jobs, like feed the calves, there was no younger child to watch the toast so we got a toaster.

  10. Pretty harsh Farber!!! Good example of why conservatives have a hard time with there image.

    • It is a tough world Gene.

  11. Below, are some ways the Whatcom Conservation District election is unfair and does not give voters due process as it is currently being run. I encourage those who also think the WCD election is unfair you can contact Washington State Conservation Commission Elections Officer, Bill Eller. His email is:

    –Not all voters know about the WCD election. In regular elections, ballots are sent out automatically to registered voters

    –Voters have to request an absentee ballot in order to vote by mail. It is not only confusing to voters to then have to request ballots in order to vote in the WCD election when WA state is a vote-by-mail state, but is also unfair because of the lack of proper notice of the election to the public

    –There have been numerous voters who said they requested a ballot from the Whatcom Conservation District, but never received their ballot from WCD.

    –If voters want to vote in-person, their only option is at one location in Lynden where there is no bus service to that location. I checked and the bus does not go near there

    –If voters are forced to vote in-person because they did not receive the ballot they requested, according to the ballot-requesting protocol, their only option is at one location in Lynden where there is no bus service to that location

    –When requesting a ballot on-line, there was no confirmation provided with which to verify that request

    –On the WCD ballot there was no way for individuals to verify their vote was received and counted as is the case in regular elections. The ballots in our regular elections have a tear-off piece to retain and allows voters to confirm their ballot was received and counted

    –The instructions which accompanied the ballots were confusing and had contradictory statements in those instructions which could result in those ballots being invalidated. The due date on the actual absentee ballots differed from the due date for those absentee ballots that was specified online on the WCD website

    –Not all voters have a vehicle to drive themselves to Lynden

    –Not all voters are physically able to get themselves to Lynden

    — There is no designated polling location in Bellingham even though a large percentage of the overall county population resides in that city

    –I imagine many WWU students may not have vehicles while attending college, so getting themselves to Lynden to vote in-person is problematic

    –Because of the reasons listed above, the WCD election favors residents of Lynden, while potentially disenfranchising residents from Bellingham and other areas

    –If a Bellingham voter or a voter who lives 25 minutes or so drive time from Lynden has a vehicle, but works a typical 9-5 job, trying to vote during their lunch hour will be problematic. It will take them about an hour drive time to drive to Lynden and back to Bham. That does not count any time at the WCD office waiting to vote.

    Also, every single invalidated ballot needs to be explained and re-visited because I believe that some of those may stem from the confusing absentee ballot instructions and possibly the write-in blank line that was not designated as such, which some voters may have signed that could cause their ballots to be invalid.

    • Also- ballots from wcd are very confusing. I’m not surprised 265 were declared invalid.

    • I agree let the County Auditor’s office handle it.

  12. Probably the most discouraging thing about the CD election is that the CD is actually a horrible soapbox upon which Helm should stand and snarl about “regulations,” since the CD is not responsible for the regulations. The district did not create them and it cannot repeal them. The district exists as a set of tools and hands to help people thread the needle of those regulations, so some clear eyes and honest rolling up of the sleeves from the Supervisors is what’s really required.

    It’s like someone running for dog catcher because he thinks more people should cobble their own shoes.

  13. To understand the issues with “district only” voting you need to go back to the original charter movement and why the Freeholders thought changes needed to be made to the old three commissioner system. That system was fractious and two commissioners could gang on one. At times, staff would be pulled two or three directions because the commissioners also served in the executive function and could create their own fiefdoms. The wrote the charter to move away from that mess.

    There needs to be some level at which the people of Whatcom County, its cities and its rural areas, can pull together and not pull apart. The polarity is already extreme and I see no compelling reason to risk making it worse.

  14. Riley, it should come as no surprise to you–or anyone–that Barbara Brenner voted for Jim Cozad. Barbara is a populist. She is the only Councilmember that can be accurately characterized as such. I do not know Jim Cozad, but his appearance and statements before Council on March 3 clearly illustrated that he has the same populist sentiments as Councilmember Brenner.

    Having two populist Councilmembers that are not supported by the traditional PACs, interest groups and local political parties would certainly not be the end of the world.

    Satpal Sidhu is clearly a man of high personal and professional attainment, but he is also untested. He may turn out to be an outstanding Councilmember, but whether or not he will be a “populist” in the tradition of Barbara Brenner remains to be seen.

    Barbara is the longest-serving Councilmember and the only candidate that can be consistently re-elected without PAC money and without spending any serious money on campaigns.

    As far as District Only voting goes, we would likely have that system today, were it not through the active engagement of Ms. Brenner and her consistent support of County Wide when the issue was put to the voters.

    Others on this page can postulate on the pros and cons of District Only, but no one can really speak authoritatively on the subject unless they have seen the effects by actually serving on the County Council. And Brenner’s outspoken criticism of it’s effects–vote trading and less attention to citizen concerns outside of a Councilmember’s district–are real and based on her experience.

    • Barbara has been consistent over the years in her thinking that appointees should not run for re-election. That appears to be the reason she voted for Jim.

      And Barbara is right about vote trading and less attention to citizens’ concerns with district only voting. Why would anyone in District 1 or 2 pay attention to the Lummi Island ferry or a sidewalk at Birch Bay unless they believed that they represent everyone?

      I have lived in District 1 since 1989. Recently I’ve been represented by Ward Nelson (not elected by District 1, but by Lynden voters), by my husband (elected by our district), by Kathy Kershner (not elected by District 1) and by Tony Larson (also not elected by District 1.) Because we have 7 representatives to call, we never made much of a fuss about this.

  15. Tim, judging from the timing and content of your post, I think we are in mind-meld territory this morning….!

  16. Speaking of low turnout elections, we have the possibility of another coming in August when the vote on the still oversize proposed jail outside of the county seat has been scheduled along with (I think) the proposed charter amendments. Someone knows smart planning.

    • Kind of like the Democrats do their Document Dumps on Friday night.

    • Hello Kay,
      Amendments to the Charter will be on the General Election ballot in November (accompanied by full detail of the proposed Amendments in the Voter’s Pamphlet). You should still inform yourself and vote in the August primary, of course!

      Eli Mackiewicz, Charter Review Commissioner, District 1

  17. I am opposed to district-only voting for many reasons already stated. However, it was a good idea to put it on the ballot. This is a very controversial issue. It is good to give the voters a say.

  18. […] the wake of not being appointed to the County Council on Tuesday, Kathy Kershner took to facebook, publishing an email from Councilman Ken Mann where […]

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