Clear Fog Blog

Political musings from Warren E. Peterson

King County Director of Elections – Vote By February 3

Posted by Warren Peterson on January 19, 2009

The scandal surrounding the actions of the King County Department of Elections in the 2004 gubernatorial recount led directly to a citizens initiative to make the Director of Elections an elected position. I personally thought this was an over reaction that in the long run will be no better than appointment by the King County Executive with Council ratification. One problem is an appointed director can be fired immediately for a foul up like 2004 but an elected director stays in office for the balance of his or her term.

Nevertheless, the initiative passed with 56% of the vote so we now have to choose from among six candidates in a winner take all election. Theoretically, our new Director of Elections could win office with slightly less than 17% of the vote. If one measures interest in this election by attendance at candidate forums or media coverage, it is hard to believe public vetting of these candidates is superior to an appointive system. So far, the media reports have centered on one candidate’s financial troubles and another’s residency. In other words, hiring the Director of Elections has become just another typical political campaign emphasizing the negative.

So who should get the job? The Director of Elections is now a political office. That makes political experience important. It is an administrative job overseeing a large number of full and part time employees so executive and people skills are very important. Salesmanship, the Director will have to “sell” the department’s budget to the Council and manage it. Ability to understand technical issues involved in voting equipment and processes is required. And of course integrity, honesty and fairness are all traits we should expect.

Only three (my original post said “two” but I was informed that Sherril Huff has held public office) of the six have the political experience of holding elective office, former King County Council Member David Irons, former Kitsap County Auditor and Bremerton City Councilmember Sherril Huff and current State Senator Pam Roach from Auburn. Senator Roach falls short in the people skills necessary to manage a large organization. Retired banker Bill Anderson, David Irons and current Elections Director Sherril Huff appear to have executive experience but Anderson lacks the political component and Ron Sims, who was up to his eyebrows in the 2004 debacle, appointed and now endorses Huff – a red flag in my book. Julie Kempf worked in the Elections Department and was fired for her performance. Christopher Clifford, a teacher in Orting, simply lacks the credentials for the office. David Irons stands out as the one candidate that best meets the qualifications needed for King County Director of Elections.

Disclosure: I have met David Irons but I have neither contributed to nor worked on the Irons’ campaign.

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