Frightening as the two of us may find it, the Seattle Times editorial board and I are in complete agreement on electing King County’s elections director: opposed.
Should the King County elections director be chosen by voters? The correct answer is no, but this becomes a far more complicated question now that Initiative 25 has qualified for a ballot.
I-25 next goes to the County Council, which should do us all a favor and put this measure on the ballot in such a way that it changes the rules not for next year’s elections, but rather for elections in 2009 or 2010. King County switches to all-mail balloting in April 2008, in the middle of a huge election year, with a presidential contest, congressional races and legislative races on the ballot in the summer and fall.
The county does not need to make this change amid all of that. The county does not need to make this change, period.
I-25, if adopted by the council and approved by voters as a charter amendment this November, would hold a special election this February to name the first elections director, with no primary contest, and an abbreviated last minute campaign. I consider I-25 sponsor Toby Nixon a friend of HA and of my radio show, but I have to say that I find this provision at the very least ill-conceived if not downright sneaky. Republicans look at this as an opportunity to seize control of the county’s election machinery, but to do so, they have to win. And a rushed, low-profile, nonpartisan race where a sudden influx of cash can make all the difference, is just about the only way for Republicans to win a countywide election these days.
Much fuss has been made about how the elections director is not accountable to the public and how if the elections director had been directly accountable to the public in the 2004 governor’s race, election mistakes would not have been made.
This is by now trumped up hooey, and a judge in a Republican county said as much after a lengthy trial on behalf of Republican Dino Rossi.
The elections director currently is accountable to the county executive. Challenger David Irons tried to pin the foibles of the election on Ron Sims in the 2005 campaign for county executive. Voters didn’t buy it.
Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where rhetoric and reason aren’t on the same side of the debate. An appointed elections director is in fact more accountable than an elected one because the appointment must be approved by the council, and the director can be fired at any time. Likewise, it is hard to imagine how electing the elections director, rather than just hiring a qualified professional, is the obvious path toward keeping politics out of our elections.
That said, it is equally hard to imagine voters rejecting the deceptively simple appeal of “more democracy.”
My only hope is that Democrats wake up to the larger agenda of the GOP, which has focused relentlessly on controlling Secretary of State and Attorney General offices nationwide… and to possibly devastating effect in places like Ohio and Florida. As they did during the legal contest over the disputed 2004 gubernatorial election, WA’s Republican minority now controls the offices of the Secretary of State, the state Attorney General, the King County Prosecutor and the US Attorney. Should they control the elections office, they could have absolute control over elections in the largest and most Democratic county in the state, as well as all offices wielding administrative and legal oversight.
And just in time for a presidential election and the Gregoire-Rossi and Burner-Reichert rematches. How convenient.