TACOMA, Wash. - They are votes almost no one notices. Of the 47
conservation districts in Washington, a total of 15 have scheduled
elections this month, although it is likely few people will even
realize they took place. And yet, conservation districts determine how
millions of tax dollars are spent on land and water conservation
projects throughout the state.
In Washington counties, the districts offer assistance to farmers and
landowners, helping with natural resource issues and administering
grants. By state law, they must hold their elections in the first
quarter of the year - but they operate outside the regular election
system, so they're not on the general election ballots and don't get
This prompted the League of Women Voters of Washington
take a closer look at how they operate, including their election rules.
Jay Bollman, a member of the Tacoma-Pierce County League, says his
team's research found conservation districts aren't trying to hide
anything - they simply have neither the time nor budget to get the vote
"If they tried to get on a general election ballot, it would cost - in
Pierce County - all the way from $100,000 to even more dollars just to
run it. And that would be a third of their budget, which is not what
their budget is for."
Bollman's volunteer stint as an observer of the Pierce Conservation
District included attending the meetings, to see what happens there.
"When we got done, we felt like it was a good program that's available
to people who can use the resources, both people as well as money that
they have - but nobody knows about it."
Bollman says conservation districts have Web sites and newsletters to
let people in their county know what they're doing. And yet, voter
turnout often amounts to only a few hundred.
One of the largest, the King County Conservation District, has a $6
million budget. Its election is coming up on Tuesday, March 16, along
with six other districts (San Juan Islands, Skagit, Underwood,
Wahkiakum, Whidbey Island and Whitman); Friday, March 12 (Gray's Harbor
and South Yakima); Thursday, March 18 (Cowlitz, Ferry and Pacific); and
Friday, March 26 (Kitsap).
The Washington State Conservation Commission has information about
every district's elections and polling places and links to their Web
sites at www.scc.wa.gov