News

More ballot trouble costs elections manager his job

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

King County’s top elections official will resign next month in the wake of more trouble getting absentee ballots to voters.

County Executive Ron Sims accepted the resignation Tuesday of Bob Roegner, head of the Records, Elections and Licensing Services Division.

Jim Buck, administrative services officer of the county's Department of Executive Services, will serve as Roegner’s interim replacement until a new elections director is appointed.

Sims said Buck will also lead an inquiry into the cause of approximately 1,500 absentee ballots being mailed late last week, after the date they were supposed to have been sent to voters who requested them.

In addition, Sims and the County Council have agreed that a council consultant and former county elections manager, Ellen Hanson, will monitor the review.

Roegner, whose resignation from his $110,000-a-year post will take effect June 13, filled the position since January 2002. But 12 council members, including Councilman Pete von Reichbauer of the Federal Way area, signed a letter Tuesday in which they told Sims their confidence in management of the elections department was “shaken” by “continuing errors in ballot ordering and the inability to correct those errors.”

Tens of thousands of absentee ballots were mailed two weeks late for the 2002 general election last November. Despite steps that Roegner said were taken to avoid such trouble in future elections, 1,500-plus absentee ballots weren’t mailed to voters in the south end and other parts of the county until four days before Tuesday’s election for a countywide parks levy and several local levies. Also, some polling places reportedly ran out of ballots as early as 8:45 a.m., less than two hours after the polls opened.

Roegner and his top aides didn’t immediately have an explanation for the ballot problems.

Election officials told the Mirror late last week that absentee ballots had been mailed, but didn’t disclose that any had been sent later than scheduled.

Sims said the county will continue to work with state election officials to have vote-by-mail absentee ballots sent out on time.

"Our ultimate goal is to ensure the election process is not compromised in any way," he said.

Sullivan, the council’s chairwoman, said Hanson will be “an extra set of eyes and ears” in reviewing the elections department procedures.

The council suggested creating a citizens’ panel to help with the review. Members could come from the Democrat and Republican parties and groups such as the League of Women Voters, Sullivan said.

Councilwoman Jane Hague, a former elections manager for the county, said such a panel could help ensure “an open, honest election in which no citizen is disenfranchised for any reason.”

In February, the council required the executive to seek council confirmation of the appointees for the top two positions in the Records, Elections and Licensing Division –– division manager and superintendent of elections. The action followed the trouble in last November's election.

Councilman David Irons said that after that difficulty, the problems with this week’s election were “inexcusable."

He said more than 400 voters who don’t have polling places in remote areas of his district didn’t receive absentee ballots until May 17 or later. The election was May 20.

"In a time when government is under more and more scrutiny for accountability, and when we are asking for more taxes, we can't afford to compromise the integrity of the elections process," Irons said.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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