Huff the best choice for Director of Elections

On February 3, as required by a charter amendment approved by voters last November, King County will hold a special election to decide who will be our Director of Elections through the end of 2011.

For decades, our county elections have been supervised by an administrator appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the county council. Now, thanks to that charter amendment, we have another important post to fill in county government during an off election year.

Six candidates are running in what has so far been a quiet and sleepy contest that deserves greater public attention. Their backgrounds are colorful and diverse, but only one of them has the specific experience and professional skills needed to capably run King County Elections: Sherril Huff.

Huff, the current Director of Elections, was appointed in 2007 and is now running to keep her job. Her resume is strong – highlights include her service as President on the Bremerton City Council, as executive director for the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council, and as Kitsap County Auditor (for two terms).

She joined King County Elections in 2005, bringing her extensive expertise to a department in need of reform. Since becoming the chief administrator there, she has implemented hundreds of recommended reforms to strengthen transparency and responsibility, and she is in favor of changing state law to allow for even more comprehensive audits of the department.

Under her leadership, King County Elections has finished moving into a new central facility in Renton, improved ballot security, and is in the process of transitioning to vote by mail only for future elections. In fact, this February special election will be the first vote by mail only election to be conducted countywide. Ballots have already been sent out to poll voters through the United States Postal Service.

None of the other candidates have both Huff’s experience as an elected official and her experience administering elections.

David Irons is a former Republican County Councilmember who unsuccessfully took on Ron Sims for County Executive in 2005 and has kept a low profile since.

Pam Roach is an outspoken Republican legislator representing the 31st District in the State Senate.

Bill Anderson is a former financial services manager who has worked at several banks in Seattle.

Chris Clifford is a teacher turned activist who launched a recall of embattled Seattle Port Commissioner Pat Davis.

And Julie Kempf is the former Superintendent of King County Elections, fired in 2003 for lying about the late mailing of absentee ballots and violating state law.

With the possible exception of Kempf, Huff’s challengers don’t have the necessary training to take over management of King County Elections by themselves. They’d have to hire a deputy to ensure that the department doesn’t start sliding backwards while they learn the job.

“It’s very complex. It’s a two year process, at least, to get familiar with the complexities of elections,” Huff told me recently when we talked about the race.

Huff herself has clear priorities for the next few years: Finish the transition to vote by mail and strengthen outreach to the people of King County. She wants to get more voters registered and make sure that already registered voters understand their rights – both very laudable goals. She’s constantly assessing the department’s effectiveness, and she’s committed to using the best technology available to verify and count ballots.

If it becomes available, she wouldn’t hesitate to consider installing open source software that could be independently inspected and certified for use in conducting elections. And she has already been collaborating with auditors across the state to develop unified standards for canvassing ballots.

Huff’s challengers all talk about greater integrity in elections, but none of them have offered compelling reasons for voters to replace her. Each of the five seems to simply want Huff’s job and the public profile that comes with it.

Tellingly, except for David Irons (whose own family members spoke negatively about his temperament in the 2005 campaign for King County Executive), none match Huff’s “Outstanding” rating from the Municipal League.

Huff’s proven track record of success and vision make her the best choice for King County Elections Director. She deserves our support on Feb 3.

Andrew Villeneuve, a 2005 Redmond High graduate, is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a Redmond-based grassroots organization. Villeneuve can be reached at andrew@nwprogressive.org.

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