News

Shakeup in county elections department

By PAT JENKINS

The Mirror

A reassignment and a pay cut for a high-ranking official is the start of a reorganization of King County’s elections department.

Effective July 11, Bill Huennekens, the superintendent of elections, will move to a new job within the department managing federal and state-enforced regulations.

Huennekens’ bosses didn’t call his move a demotion, but it is tied to controversy that enveloped the department after the race for governor last year. The agency was heavily criticized for faulty accounting of ballots, a prime subject in a lawsuit by the Republican Party that sought to overturn Democrat Christine Gregoire’s victory in the narrow, two-recount race.

Testimony in the lawsuit, which the Republicans lost, implicated Huennekens in inaccurate reporting of absentee ballot totals in the general election.

Last year’s election “highlighted the need to closely examine the structure” of the department, said Dean Logan, the county’s top elections official as director of the Records, Elections and Licensing Services Division. “This move (of Huennekens) accomplishes that in two ways. It maximizes Bill’s technical skill and elections expertise in legislative changes, and it allows us to re-focus the superintendent position on management and organizational development.”

More changes in the department are likely in an attempt to put employees in the best-suited jobs, Logan added.

The department is undergoing internal and external reviews, including a management audit by independent contractors hired through the County Council. Republican members of the council, reflecting the intense partisanship in debates over the 2004 election controversy, have gone as far as suggesting Logan resign.

Logan has been defended by County Executive Ron Sims, who also praised Huennekens this week for helping improve the county’s “elections administration.”

But Huennekens will take a $3,900 cut in pay in his new role as project manager for the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a federal measure adopted by Congress in 2002, and election-related state laws. He will oversee specialized voting equipment for people with disabilities which must be available at each of the county’s 500-plus polling places by early-2006. He will also administer funding for U.S. and state election reforms.

Sims and Logan noted Huennekens is well-versed in HAVA and state election laws from working as a policy analyst in the Washington secretary of state’s election division before he was appointed King County’s superintendent of elections in November 2003. Logan, who was appointed by Sims and confirmed by the council earlier that month, formerly headed the state election division.

Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, one of the Republican council members who’ve been sharply critical of Logan and the administration of the elections department, said he hopes that personnel changes such as Huennekens’ reassignment are an improvement “and not just a rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic.”

A new county elections supervisor, the no. 2 person behind Logan, could be nominated by August for the council’s possible confirmation, Logan said. The county plans to hire a personnel headhunter firm to help with the search. Preferred candidates will have a “demonstrated competency” in administering “a complex, highly scrutinized” public organization, officials said.

King County is the 12th-largest elections jurisdiction in the U.S. and second only to Los Angeles County in California in the number of absentee ballots it processes.

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

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