Port Ludlow Drainage District candidate claims election was flawed

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT LUDLOW — An incumbent candidate who was defeated in the Feb. 3 Port Ludlow Drainage District race has accused the Jefferson county auditor and deputy prosecutor of unfairly sabotaging her candidacy, while the two officials said they were only following the law.

“I think this election should be set aside. It wasn't a fair election,” said Elizabeth Van Zonneveld, who was appointed to the board in 2012 and was running for a six year-term.

“What has happened here is wrong and I cannot let it go unremarked.”

Van Zonneveld spoke during the public comment period of Monday's meeting of the Jefferson County commissioners.

County Auditor Donna Eldridge, acting on the advice of Deputy Civil Prosecutor David Alvarez, said that Van Zonneveld was not eligible to run for the office since she lives in a condominium.

State law states that votes are cast by condominium management as an entity and not by individuals.

As a result, Van Zonneveld cannot hold office in the case of drainage district elections as she is not technically a voter, Eldridge said.

Jim Boyer, a Port Ludlow homebuilder and an unsuccessful county commissioner candidate, won 428 votes, or 51.01 percent, to Van Zonneveld's 394 votes, or 46.96 percent, for a six-year term in Position 1 in last Tuesday's election.

Van Zonneveld said opinions stated by Eldridge and Alvarez in the weekly Port Townsend-Jefferson County Leader were inappropriate, incorrect and cost her the election.

“It was inappropriate for two county officials to go to the newspapers and talk about my ineligibility when it had not been determined,” she said.

Eldridge said that she did not contact the Leader about Van Zonneveld's candidacy, that she was only responding to questions from the reporter “as I would do for anybody,” she said.

Van Zonneveld said she has contacted the Washington State Auditor with a request to investigate the matter, and is calling for an investigation of Alvarez and Eldridge.

“There are important principles at stake here,” Van Zonneveld said.

“I am asking you to defer certification of this election until the state's investigators have had time to complete their work.”

The election is due for certification on Feb. 18.

After the comment period, County Administrator Philip Morley said his office would examine the regulations “to see what the procedures are for qualification of candidates and take it from there.”

Eldridge, who supported Boyer in his unsuccessful 2010 bid to unseat Commissioner John Austin, said her actions were not political.

“My only concern is to run a clean and fair election,” she said.

Eldridge said that Van Zonneveld's initial appointment was not properly handled, and the swearing-in should have been conducted by the county commissioners instead of the Drainage District Board, which is what occurred.

Eldridge said she was made aware of the situation by an anonymous caller in early January, who asked whether a candidate needed to be a qualified voter in order to run for office.

The caller would not give his name. Eldridge nevertheless spent 45 minutes on the phone with him discussing the situation.

“It turns out that he was trying to disqualify another candidate but it turned out that his candidate was the one who was disqualified,” she said.

“Once this was opened up, I looked into Elizabeth's candidacy and found that she was not qualified.”

Van Zonnefeld said Eldridge called her, told her of the disqualification and asked her to stop campaigning, advice she ignored because she believed she was qualified to serve as she had already been in office for more than a year.

According to Washington State code, a drainage district board has exclusive charge of the construction and maintenance of all drainage systems, something that Van Zonnefeld said affects all residents connected to a drainage system, whether they live in condominiums or on acreage.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 10. 2014 7:39PM
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