News

No more bungled balloting is goal

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

Metropolitan King County Council members hope a citizens’ committee created to help correct recent bungling of elections will restore confidence countywide in the voting system.

The Citizens Elections Oversight Committee, formally approved July 14 by the council, will monitor the county’s elections department for possible improvements.

Tens of thousands of absentee ballots were mailed to voters two weeks late for the November 2002 general election. Six months later, despite assurances from election officials that a repeat of last year’s trouble would be avoided, more than 1,500 absentee ballots weren’t mailed to voters in the south end and other parts of the county until four days before before the May 20 election for a countywide parks levy and several local levies. Also, some polling places ran out of in-person ballots as early as 8:45 a.m., less than two hours after the polls opened.

Voters and council members complained, leading to the resignation in June of Bob Roegner as director of the division that includes the elections department.

Noting that president and other high-profile races will be on next year’s ballot, which could also include measures on regional transportation funding, Councilwoman Kathy Lambert said the new committee has important work to do and no time to lose.

“It’s vital that the mistakes and problems of the last year get corrected to ensure that people will not be shut out of the (election) process,” said Lambert, a co-sponsor of legislation instructing the committee to observe this fall’s election and study ways of improving the performance and accountability of the elections department.

Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, whose constituency includes Federal Way, supports the committee (“The more eyes on ways of fixing things, the better,” he said) but also wants the council to be a leader of any reforms.

“We shouldn’t shift our responsibility to a citizens’ committee,” von Reichbauer said.

Jim Buck, a county administrator appointed by county Executive Ron Sims as Roegner’s interim replacement, was appointed to head an inquiry into May’s ballot woes. Sims and the council agreed to have the review monitored by Ellen Hanson, a council consultant and former county elections manager.

The nine-member citizens’ committee will have representatives from six organizations with political ties or experience in monitoring or conducting elections –– the Municipal League, the League of Women Voters, the secretary of state’s elections department, the King County Republican and Democratic parties and a school district (to be named). The groups will name their representatives. Three at-large citizen representatives also will be picked.

The committee was given a $7,500 budget and is scheduled to conclude its work by March 31, 2004.

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

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