by Inlander Staff
Over by Labor Day? -- In recent years, Spokane County has seen remarkable growth in the number of voters who choose to vote by mail, or absentee. Just recently, county officials calculated that 50 percent of its voters have chosen to stay away from the polls on Election Day, says Paul Brandt, the county's elections manager.

This week, the county mailed out 109,470 absentee ballots, with 47,643 of those postmarked for city of Spokane residents. Brandt expects that between 60 and 70 percent of absentee ballots will be returned. That means as many as 33,000 votes could be cast in the mayoral election and for the initiative to recall the strong mayor system well in advance of the primary election, starting this week. (Brandt says if you haven't received your absentee ballot by Saturday, call 477-2320 on Tuesday.)

In the old days, the rule of thumb for primary elections was that voters wouldn't tune into politics until after Labor Day. This has always led to a scramble -- this year, there are only 15 days between the holiday and the Sept. 16 primary. But with the rise in absentee voting, the dynamic is even more vicious for candidates trying to get their message out. If absentee voters fill out their ballots promptly, the five mayoral candidates may spend the sprint to Sept. 16 fighting over only half the voters. And with five candidates, the outcome of the election could be determined well before that date.

It's even hard on us media types, who have to back up our election stories earlier and earlier. Voting officials may need to consider new, later election dates, as the combination of absentee voting and the dog days of summer seem to be conspiring against allowing citizens to make the most informed choice possible.

Get Saddam for Us -- If Spokane has its own Karl Rove or James Carville, it's Erik Skaggs. Along with his other duties at Met Mortgage, he has spearheaded that company's political activism, leading to, among other things, the elections of John Talbott and Steve Eugster and the establishment of the strong mayor system. But even though this fall's matchups are shaping up to be a political junkie's World Series, Skaggs will miss it. Instead of going after John Powers, he'll be busy trying to track down Saddam Hussein and helping Iraq become a functioning country again.

Skaggs, who is married with kids, is in a Special Ops unit of the Army National Guard, and like thousands of his kind across the nation, he's being called up immediately for service in Iraq -- perhaps for as long as a year.

Skaggs has also served on the Public Facilities District board over the past five months, as it has struggled with putting the finishing touches on the complex plans that will bring new projects to the region, including the convention center expansion. He'll resign from that post this week.

Publication date: 08/28/03

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