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Elections candidate didn't vote

A supervisor of elections candidate whose platform is based largely on combating voter apathy once lost her voter eligibility because she failed to vote for more than two years.

The voter registration of Republican Karen Hession, who is challenging 12-year Democratic incumbent Kurt Browning, was purged in 1983. Hession first registered to vote in Pasco after moving here in 1980, but voter registration records show she did not vote in an election until September 1984.

"I was probably distracted with other things," said Hession, explaining that that was during a period she was often traveling between Pasco and Illinois, her former home.

Hession missed a number of elections even after she reinstated her registration. During her 12 years as a Pasco resident, she has voted in 14 elections and failed to vote in 14 elections, Browning said.

Hession faults Browning for not doing enough to increase voter registration or to educate children about the importance of voting. She said the supervisor of elections should be more aggressive in registering voters and conducting school programs. She said she would push for programs that stress how "one vote makes a very, very big difference."

Browning defends his efforts to increase the number of voters in Pasco and pointed out Hession's temporary loss of voting eligibility.

"That's a great example for her to be setting," he said.

Hession said her voting record is not "a campaign issue." "As far as I'm concerned," she said, "it's like saying I never crossed the street in the middle of the block."

Hession and Browning were interviewed Tuesday by the Times editorial board.

A voter's registration remains active as long as there has been some activity on his or her registration _ if not voting, then something like changing his or her address or last name _ within a two-year period. The elections office informs a voter when a registration is about to lapse with a card that can be signed and returned if the voter wants to avoid having registration lapse.

Hession, 50, is Browning's first opponent since he won the seat as a 22-year-old in 1980. This is her first run for political office, though she is active in Republican politics. Along with her work as a precinct committeewoman and a district coordinator, she worked on Ed Collins' successful County Commission campaign in 1990 and the unsuccessful 1988 state House campaign of her father, Peter Berz.

She emphasizes the "fresh ideas" she would bring to the position. She wants to give the elections office a higher visibility and said she believes its workers need to be better trained. She would put more emphasis on attracting more voters to the polls.

"We need new imaginative type of hype to get people to pay more attention and to get the young voters out," she said.

Browning said that he, too, would like to see more voters at the polls but that what he can do is limited. He noted that one of his first moves as supervisor of elections was to make it easier to register.

He added more than 100 locations for people to register and as president of the State Association of Supervisors of Elections fought, unsuccessfully, to stop the practice of selecting juries from voter lists. That provides some people with an incentive to avoid registering.

Browning further contends that Hession's political activism is a drawback, because the supervisor of elections must avoid the appearance of partisan favoritism.

"We've maintained and conducted an election process that is fair, that is impartial, that has served the needs of the people of Pasco. And we haven't played politics with this office," Browning said.

But Hession questioned whether Browning compromised his impartiality by attending several meetings held by advocates of establishing a Children's Services Council in Pasco. She said he left himself open to accusations of bias.

Browning said he attended several such meetings because the group had questions about campaign finances. Advocates for the council waged an unsuccessful referendum campaign financed through a political action committee. Browning said he assists any group that seeks his advice, regardless of whether he supports it.