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An elected auditor may take charge of county's elections

The Mirror

King County’s auditor would become an elected official and put in charge of elections under a plan to revamp supervision of the county elections department.

County Councilman David Irons said he’s proposing the change in response to election errors the past three years.

Irons introduced an amendment of the county charter that would return the auditor to an elected, non-partisan position with responsibility for supervising and running elections. The auditor would serve four-year terms.

King County is the only one of Washington’s 39 counties whose elections are headed by an appointed official –– Dean Logan, director of records, elections and licensing –– instead of an elected auditor.

Logan was appointed in 2003 by County Executive Ron Sims and was confirmed by the County Council. Before that, the county’s elections system was criticized for mishandling absentee ballots, including mailing some too late for two elections in a row and sending the wrong ballots to some voters.

Criticism continued last year. In the counting of votes in the Nov. 2 general election, the first major election in Logan’s tenure, the county initially misplaced more than 500 ballots, then included them in a second, manual recount in the race for governor. The state Republican Party –– whose candidate, Dino Rossi, lost the second recount and the race to Democrat Christine Gregoire –– is using alleged errors by King and other counties as part of its effort to force a statewide re-vote for governor.

Irons, a Republican, said “public outcry about the ongoing problems and numerous errors demands that we revise the oversight of the elections process.”

Irons said the public needs “direct control” over “electing the official who will be responsible for the integrity of our elections.”

Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, also a Republican, has said Logan’s job doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy but the election system needs to improve.

The auditor’s office was established Feb. 1, 1970 and placed under control of the council, which appoints the auditor. The current officeholder is Cheryle Broom.

The auditor conducts financial and performance audits of county government as a division of the council. Among other things, agencies are checked for efficiency.

The charter amendment proposed by Irons to reshape the auditor’s duties is being reviewed by the county’s prosecuting attorney for any legal issues. After that, the council could place the amendment on the ballot for this November’s general election. If voters approve it, an auditor would be elected in November 2006.

An auditor-led election department was also urged by council members after ballot problems surfaced in 2002 and 2003 elections. Councilwoman Jane Hague, a former manager of county elections, was among the proponents.

“We’ve talked about this issue for years, and nothing has been done to remedy the problems,” Irons said. “The time has come to take action to revise and improve the way we do business.”

Meanwhile, Washington’s top election official has released a list of proposed election reforms, including moving the primary to June.

The proposals by Secretary of State Sam Reed come after a lengthy gubernatorial election won by Democrat Christine Gregoire after two recounts. The Republican Party and its candidate are laying the groundwork for a legal battle in an attempt to have a re-vote.

Reed has been saying for some time the electoral system in Washington needs reform. Among the items on his list is moving the primary election from September to the third Tuesday in June to allow more time for processing ballots between the primary and the general election in November.

“Our September primary is a train wreck waiting to happen,” Reed.

He is also proposing that state election officials review 13 counties each year to make sure the counties are in compliance with state and federal election laws.

Reed also requested the Legislature allocate funding to improve and enlarge training for the state’s certification and training program for election workers.

Staff writer Mike Halliday contributed to this report.

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