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Kitsap voters survive new primary format

The students in Debbie Klabo’s fifth-grade U.S. history class dutifully filed into the Esquire Hills Elementary School library on Tuesday afternoon. The students were curious and eager to learn about the real-life lesson in democracy unfolding before their eyes during the state primary election. As a steady stream of voters came into the library, the children asked polling supervisor Marie Wick about the process and what would happen next.

Klabo, meanwhile, stood behind her students and beamed.

“I thought, ‘What’s a better way to learn about democracy?’ “ Klabo said.

Esquire Hills Elementary was one of the dozens of polling places for Kitsap voters to go and choose their candidates for November.

Kitsap voters voted for their favorite candidates in a variety of elections Tuesday. For the first time, voters had to declare their political party to vote in the partisan offices and were restricted to voting for candidates in their chosen party. Voters were still allowed to vote for all the nonpartisan candidates. The new primary style, modeled after Montana’s primary, was a result of lawsuits by the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties, federal courts deemed the previous Washington primary to be unconstitutional.

“I hate it,” said Karen Gentry of the new primary style. Gentry was voting at at the Bremerton Junior High School. She would rather be able to vote for the candidate of her choice, rather than be restricted to her party affiliation.

Adam Brockus, another BJHS voter, had difficulty of another kind. He said BJHS was a bad choice for a polling place because the parking was inconvenient. In previous years the polls at BJHS were located near the parking lot in a closer building.

Brockus also didn’t like the fact that no one double-checked his ballot after he turned it in to make sure his ballot was done correctly.

He used to vote in King County and at those polling places, the poll workers would feed the ballots into a machine. The machine would check the ballot to make sure all offices were voted for and offer the voter a chance to fill in any blanks.

“That blue box ain’t going to do it,” Brockus said after he dropped his ballot into the locked box.

“We’ve actually had more complaints about the distance (from the parking lot) than on the new primary,” said Bessie Workman, polling supervisor at BJHS. A group of unknown mischievous students at BJHS also didn’t help the polling location problem. Unknown students placed “vote here” signs in the bushes and in front of locker rooms and showers. By the afternoon, BJHS security guard, Lionel Collins had already accompanied at least 10 lost people to the polling location.

Billie Gentry, a first-time voter felt her experience was a good one.

“It’s something she has never done before and it’s too important of an election not to vote,” said her husband, Paul Gentry.

Joyce Menkel, poll supervisor at Ridgetop Junior High School, said the process is a rigid one by design. When voters go to the polling place, they have to show identification. A poll worker then cross-checks to make sure the voter is at the right polling place, finds the voters ballot and tears the perforated top off because it has the voter’s name and address on it. This is done to assure the voter that their political party and vote is kept private. Only voters who did not sign up for a mail-in ballot are listed at the polling place, which prevents people from voting twice.

Whomever is overseeing the polling place has to be a member of the party that received the highest number of votes in the last presidential election.

Another safeguard is that once the voters finish voting, the ballots are placed in a locked box. When the polls close at 8 p.m., the ballots are taken out of the box and counted to make sure the number of ballots corresponds to the number of voters. When the ballots are being audited at the polls, there has to be Democrat and one Republican present at all times.

Once the ballots are validated, they are given to a Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputy who delivers them to the Kitsap County Courthouse in Port Orchard, where Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn takes control of them.

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