Opinion

Our primary season is (sigh) just too short

Adlai Stevenson couldn’t win the White House in two tries, but it wasn’t for want of a choice whistle-stop quip.

The gentleman from Illinois once observed:

“The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.” And when a woman told him during the 1956 campaign, “You have the vote of every thinking person,” Stevenson rejoined, “That’s not enough, madam – we need a majority.”

Ah, campaign season, heralded by the ruffling of plumage on platforms far and wide. The national news columns are already aflutter with names from both parties testing the wind for presidential bids, and we’re only eight months into the incumbent’s second term. Plenty of time for voters (thinking and otherwise) to get to know where all of them stand. Meanwhile, at the local level, mayoral and council hopefuls are working to

distinguish their fine character and ideas from those of their opponents, for an election that is...goodness, nearly upon us.

How best to woo the electorate in such a short time? The candidates have various means -- doorbelling, advertising, public forums, and for the truly daring, lawn signs – at their disposal. Conversely, how can the voters get to know the candidates? Frankly, many islanders have probably never heard of some of the names that will be on the coming ballot.

It makes a good case for a longer campaign season at the local level.

Consider the current campaigns for Bainbridge Island mayor and council, for which candidates formally declared during the final week of July. August is something of a wasted month for campaigning, as few if any public events are scheduled and the island largely shuts down while everyone is away on holiday. But primary ballots go into the mail a week from today; by the time the Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum rolls around on Sept. 7, a good number of folks will already have marked their ballots up and sent them back to the elections office. The primary officially takes place on Sept. 20, but with a particularly close race, the results might not

be known for 10 days or two weeks until the election is

certified. Then ballots for the general election go out in mid-October, three weeks before the Nov. 8 general.

That leaves precious little time for the candidates and voters to get to know one another, leaving an obvious advantage for incumbents and those who come to the race already boasting good name recognition and a track record of high-profile civic involvement. And consider King County; if a gubernatorial primary had turned out to be as close (and hotly contested) as the general election turned out to be, the general election itself would have been impossible.

For some time now, the Washington State Association of County Auditors and Secretary of State Sam Reed have pushed for some time to get the primary moved up all the way to June. A compromise plan – an August primary –

recently failed to get through the state Senate. The auditor’s association plans to revive the issue with the next session, and we hope our local legislators will give it their support.

We need more time for whistle stops. We need a longer local campaign season.

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