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Can King County Put An End To Elections Fiascos?

In November of 2008, voters in King County, Washington, approved by a margin of 56 to 44% an amendment to the King County Charter that changes the position of Elections Director from a political appointment to an elected office. The first election for this position will also be King County’s first all-mail ballot; voting deadline is February 3. The move to an elected position was prompted by King County’s dismal performance in the last few election cycles such as the 2004 gubernatorial fiasco and the 2002/2003 late absentee ballots fiascos. Not to be left out, 2008 has it’s own fiasco, the big ole’ stack of ballots with signature matching errors fiasco.

Several candidates have filed for this office, but it’s not my intention to discuss all of them and their relative strengths and weaknesses. Rather, I’ll just be focusing on one candidate, Sherril Huff. Ms. Huff is the current Elections Director, having been appointed in 2007 by King County Executive Ron Sims. In order to fulfill the residency requirement of the elected office, Huff, a long-time resident of Kitsap County, signed a one year lease on a house in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle and registered as a King County voter on December 9. She filed for as a candidate for elections director on December 11 and subsequently moved to King county on December 15 or 16.

Christopher Clifford, also running for the office, filed a challenge to Huff’s candidacy, claiming the home in Seattle is not Huff’s actual residence. The King County Canvassing Board has already ruled on the challenge, finding that Seattle home is Huff’s actual place of residence and her voter registration is valid. Clifford now says he will ask the King County Superior Court to invalidate the February 3 election since the established timeline shows that Huff, as a resident of Kitsap County, was not eligible to file as a candidate on December 11.

Huff recused herself from ruling on Clifford’s complaint, but as far as I know is supervising the election in which she is a candidate. Is that a problem for anyone else, or is it just me? I’m thinking just me, because I haven’t heard, oh, say, Ron Sims suggest that there’s anything troubling there. Which is, in itself, troubling. And leaving aside the fact that Huff is a blatant carpetbagger – and who likes a carpetbagger – it appears that she’s also willing to bend the rules. It occurs to me that’s not a personality trait that should be highly valued in an elections director. Such is the elections culture in King County.

You might ask why any of this is significant to Washington voters residing outside King County. Good question. King County is the tail that wags the political dog here in Washington. Approximately 28% of Washington residents live in King County. More residents live in King County than in the next two most populous counties, Pierce and Snohomish, combined. With King County’s being overwhelmingly and radically liberal, it’s difficult enough for voters in the rest of the state to make their voices heard without the added obstacle of sloppily applied election regulations.

In these days of a sharply divided electorate, with elections being decided by razor thin margins, we must protect the integrity of our elections process. If we fail to do so, loss of public trust will inevitably follow. To maintain that trust, it seems obvious to me that the officials supervising our elections must be above reproach in every regard. I don’t blame Ms. Huff for wanting to keep her job. Heck, if I had a job that paid nearly $150,000 a year, I’d want to keep it, too. But if it was that important to her, she could have arranged the details of her move to King County to fulfill both the letter and the spirit of the law. It’s not as though she wasn’t aware of the need to establish residency; she could have moved at any time following November 4th. That she didn’t indicates that she either was unaware of the laws surrounding residency/filing or was unconcerned with following them exactly. Either is problematic.

After the 2004 gubernatorial election, in which King County kept finding more and more unsecured and previously uncounted ballots, right up until they had found “just enough” to ensure Gregoire’s victory, I adopted the tongue-in-cheek position that Washington’s other 38 counties should withhold their results until King County had reported…I was only half joking. King County voters could do much to alleviate the doubts about the honesty and integrity of their elections process by carefully considering the character as well as the qualifications of each candidate.

It’s not my intent to particularly bash Ms. Huff; she’s not the only candidate with issues. I use her as an example only to illustrate the cultural climate in which the King County Elections Department operates. I’m asking – begging, really – my neighbors in King County to spend just a moment considering the effect their vote will have on the rest of our State’s voters. I know we all want elections that are honest and a process that is transparent. Please vote accordingly.

Cross posted at It’s Only Words

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