State law requires the Kennewick Irrigation District to conduct elections annually in December. It not only gives KID customers a voice in selecting board members, but also ensures accountability to the owners of 22,000 parcels that make up the district’s irrigable land in the Tri-Cities.
But a review of the Dec. 12, 2017 election shows that only 52 parcels participated in the voting. This is less than 0.25 of 1 percent of the total parcels eligible to vote, with each parcel allowed a minimum of two votes.
Low voter turnout has been typical of KID elections for years. There are generally between 100 and 150 voting parcels. This year it was far worse.
Hardly anyone knows about the elections and it appears board members want it that way. All they have to do is call on a few owners of large-sized parcels in order to cash in on bundles of votes, which are assigned based on how much land is owned. Every 5 acres earns 2 votes, based on state law. Smaller parcels have two votes regardless of size.
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December elections virtually guarantee low turnouts. Something has to change — and soon.
House Bill 2675, which is pending in Olympia, will rectify this offensive situation.
Sponsored by Rep. Larry Haler of Richland, the proposed legislation would move all irrigation district elections in Washington from December to November to coincide with the regular General Elections. It also would require the elections to be conducted by respective county elections departments.
This is the best way to address what has become an outdated and ineffective elections process for irrigation districts. It is time to restore the democratic process that has been eroded by antiquated state law governing irrigation district elections.
An election that has less than one-quarter of one percent turnout cannot be justified as an election, and anyone who claims such a process has elected them to public office is kidding themselves. They ought to be embarrassed or ashamed.
If HB 2675 or something akin to it cannot be approved by the Washington Legislature, then perhaps irrigation districts would favor a new bill to abolish irrigation district elections statewide, giving those districts unrestrained authority to demand whatever they want, without limit on imposing fees or assessments — all absent accountability to anyone.
But wait, isn’t that what we have now under the guise of “an election?” The most recent KID election showed that four owners of large parcels controlled more than half the votes cast. More than 21,950 property owners didn’t count.
December elections are a useless pretense. Fix it with HB 2675.
John Trumbo is a member of the Kennewick City Council and a former journalist. He spent several years as a reporter for the Tri-City Herald.