POLK COUNTY -- Two former Polk County Board of Commissioner candidates, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, have submitted a ballot initiative to make county BOC positions nonpartisan starting in 2012.
BOC candidates are currently nominated by political parties, but all other Polk County elected offices are nonpartisan.
Initiative Chief Petitioners Danny Jaffer and Dave Weston, working under the name Citizens for Polk County, believe the BOC seats should also be nonpartisan.
Weston and Jaffer turned in the petition to the Polk County Clerk's Office on June 7 and are awaiting final approval to collect signatures. A mandatory review period will end June 21, during which a protest of the ballot title can be filed.
Switching the positions to nonpartisan would ensure all voters, regardless of party affiliation, can participate in the spring BOC primary election.
"Right now that process is closed to 20 to 25 percent of voters," Weston said, adding the initiative wouldn't change the office itself, just the method used to select candidates in the primary. "It doesn't change anything regarding the responsibilities of the commissioners."
The new process would have all voters able to vote for any candidates running in the spring primary. The top two vote-getters for a specific seat would move on to the general election, Weston said.
"This has been done in a number counties and has met with a high degree of success," he said.
Both Weston and Jaffer ran in the primary election in 2010, Weston as a Republican and Jaffer as a Democrat. Jaffer said during the campaign they both were asked why the BOC positions were partisan when other offices weren't.
State law allows counties to select the method of choosing BOC candidates and the issue can be put on the ballot either by the board itself or through an initiative campaign.
"In Oregon, 19 of the 36 counties are nonpartisan and more are heading that direction," Jaffer said. "It seemed like it was the right time for Polk County to do the same."
If no protests are filed by June 21, petitioners will be free to begin collecting signatures on the initiative, Polk County Clerk Val Unger said. They would need to collect 1,779 valid signatures by Aug. 10 to qualify the initiative for November's ballot.
Jaffer said they have discussed the initiative with people both inside and outside county government.
"We haven't had a single `no'," Jaffer said. "Everyone has said this is great idea. We would hope all parties would support us on this because we think it's a good thing for Polk County."