Exit polls of Bainbridge voters show I-522 is top draw at ballot box

    - Bainbridge Island Review photo
— image credit: Bainbridge Island Review photo

A three-letter acronym is inspiring Bainbridge voters to cast ballots this Election Day, according to exit polls conducted by the Bainbridge Review.

No, the acronym is not SMP.

It's GMO.

Reporters from the Review interviewed Bainbridge voters who were dropping off their ballots at the election drop box outside the Madison Avenue fire station during three shifts on Monday, Nov. 4 and Tuesday, Nov. 5.

More than 30 voters stopped to talk about what was bringing them to the polls, and roughly a quarter of those questioned by the Review said Initiative 522 — the proposal to require advisory labels on genetically engineered food (GMO) — was the most important item on the November ballot.

Roughly half that number of voters said their biggest issue was the SMP, or Shoreline Management Program.

The city of Bainbridge Island adopted a major overhaul of its SMP in May, and the rewrite was unpopular with many property owners along the Bainbridge Island coast. They said the program — which regulates new development along the shoreline while protecting the environment and coastal habitat — was too restrictive, too complex and would result in costly lawsuits.

The SMP has repeatedly popped up as an issue during public forums this election season, and one candidate for the Bainbridge Island City Council has vowed to "kill" the state-mandated rewrite of the rules if given the chance.

A political action committee was also formed by Gary Tripp, one of the most vocal critics of the SMP, and Tripp has spearheaded an email and regular mail campaign to promote candidates whose views on the SMP fit with his.

Voters who did raise the SMP as critical during exit interviews this week came down on both sides of the issue.

One voter said the new SMP would lead to costly court battles.

"The lawsuits will be abounding and so plentiful we won't get anything done because they will be so busy defending themselves," she said of city officials.

"Do you think it's set up for failure, just like Obamacare?" she asked rhetorically. "Hell yes."

The woman said she moved to Bainbridge 2 1/2 years ago and thought it was like Mayberry, the fictional town made famous by "The Andy Griffith Show" on television, but soon saw "scandal after scandal" after she got here.

"They hired during this downturn in the economy ... and then they gave them a 50-percent raise. They've got all these people, they are overpaying them," she said of employees at city hall.

"We've got a real hotbed of corruption here and the first thing we need to do is to start firing some people. And let everybody know, you are not omnipotent as a government worker," she said.

Other voters also said the SMP was a prime concern.

"We live on the shoreline. I don't think it's appropriate to get city permission to trim trees," said another voter, a Bainbridge resident since 1942. "It'll reduce property values."

Another voter, however, said the SMP issue had been overblown.

"I've been following the Shoreline Master Program. I felt there has been a group of property owners who've been trying to trump the SMP into a property rights issue," the voter said.

One woman, who specifically said she voted for city council candidates Wayne Roth and Val Tollefson, cited the SMP as a deciding issue.

"I asked people who lived here for a while who I trust about the history behind it all," she said, adding that she herself had only lived on the island for three years.

Other concerns prompting people to vote, but on a much lesser scale than the SMP, or GMO initiative, were issues involving the school board, the environment, roads, the police department and taxes.

According to exit interviews this week, most voters were satisfied with the choices of candidates they had on the ballot.

Only two voters said they were dissatisfied; two others did not offer an opinion.

A large number of voters surveyed said they were voting for candidates for the Bainbridge Island City Council not because of their particular stance on an issue, but because they knew the candidate personally, or the candidate shared their values, or the candidate was heavily involved in the community.

"I voted on the candidates that I felt that represented the island best," said one voter, a three-year resident of Bainbridge.

Another voter, a longtime voter and 11-year resident, said she was voting for "People I know pretty well, people I thought would do a good job."

"On local candidates, I probably lean toward the green team," said another voter, a 33-year resident of Bainbridge.

"The choices were a little more black-and-white, I thought," she said.

Some voters said they were casting a vote for change.

"I think we needed fresh, new blood," said a regular voter who has lived on the island 35 years.

A newer resident agreed: "I've been very dissatisfied with the council these last few years; hoping to change that."

About a quarter of those interviewed said they were voting for a "slate" of candidates.

Tripp's political action committee, or PAC, has sent mailers to Bainbridge voters asking them to vote for a slate of three candidates running for the Bainbridge council.

But most islanders interviewed during post-vote surveys said they were casting votes for individual candidates. And some added that PAC-supported candidates would not get their votes.

"I don't like outside involvement and I don't like people coming with an agenda of what they perceive as economic," one voter said.

"The qualities I'd like to see on council is a thoughtful [concern] that considers the quality of life for everyone on Bainbridge," added another voter.

"We've read a lot on the group that was supported by a PAC," a voter said. "And even though some of the candidates tooted their horn that they are independent, they were talking about money, money, money. It's not just about money."

Another added that the crucial issue at city hall was: "Whether we form a council that can work as a team or whether they will let their own personal agendas continue to get in the way."

"I did not want a single-issue candidate," said one woman. "I was looking for people with open minds and people who would protect the island and stand up to pressure from outside."

She went on to say that she would not vote for anybody who was involved in the real estate industry.

Several voters questioned mentioned increasing campaign spending as an area of concern.

"I didn't like all of the outside money coming in and where it came from," said one man.

Another voter, a 28-year resident, said he was fed up with automated telephone calls from candidates.

"If anything, it makes me vote for somebody else. They are wasting their money," he said.

"Im always annoyed by the excessive amount of mail advertising," he added. "It's a waste of money and paper, and if anything, it makes me negative toward a candidate if I get a lot of mailers."

For its survey on the election this week, the Review stopped voters at random after they had dropped off their ballots.

Voters in the sampling ranged from a person voting in her first election, to regular voters who said they rarely miss a local election. Voters ranged from new arrivals to the island (less than two years) to residents who have been on Bainbridge for 30 years or more.

Overall results from the voter surveys show that I-522, the GMO initiative, is the top draw this November for Bainbridge voters.

One voter said he was not voting for any local candidates, but strictly on I-522.

Another said: "I haven't voted in probably about eight years, and I-522 got me to vote."

"I was really motivated to vote because of the GMO [initiative]," said one voter, who described herself as one of the "original hippies" that moved to Bainbridge back in the day.

"I just want to know what's in my food," she said.

Review writers Cecilia Garza and Luciana Marano contributed to this story.


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