Video voters’ guide to keep analog rules

When Kitsap County’s new online voters’ guide makes its debut this year, candidates will have the opportunity to record video position statements instead of the traditional printed message.

“We want to keep these statements as close to those in the printed voter guide as we can,” Kitsap County Elections Supervisor Dolores Gilmore said. “We want the candidates to answer specific questions and avoid defamatory statements.”

The idea of prohibiting candidates from challenging their opponents, however, doesn’t sit well with everyone.

“The reason for the voters’ pamphlet is to help the voters make a decision,” said Kitsap County Republican Chairman Sandra LaCelle. “It’s not accomplishing that because the content is too restrictive.”

Trent England, an attorney and director of the Citizenship and Governance Center at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, agrees.

“Theoretically, the laws were created to avoid libelous statements,” he said. “But since you almost never hear of a candidate being successfully sued by his opponent, that doesn’t really seem like a valid concern.

“As a practical matter,” England said, “I’ve always believed rules like this are simply a way for incumbents to put their challengers at a competitive disadvantage.”

Not every county chooses to interpret the stature like Kitsap.

“The state elections division and county elections offices typically do no editing of voters’ pamphlet statements,” said Washington Secretary of State spokesman David Ammons, “except in cases of profanity and potentially libelous statements. In those cases, they would ask the candidate to revise their statements and would let the opposing candidate know what they were saying about them.

“That happens only rarely, I’m told,” he said. “Candidates can say pretty much whatever they want in campaigns — including the voter’s pamphlet statements — including running down or even lying about their opponents.”

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