An Election Reform Storm

Ron Sims' spending plan hits a snag.

Now that the results are final, they're fighting over how to improve the elections process. King County Executive Ron Sims' proposal to buy a building and add staff to improve the performance of the county's troubled elections division ran into trouble last week. On June 2, Sims had presented his proposal to spend $22.8 million for a new headquarters for the King County Records, Elections, and Licensing Services Division in a three-story building on Rainier Avenue South, and $650,835 a year for 14 new staffers, including two quality-control experts and a webmaster. But on June 6, when Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges dismissed Republican Dino Rossi's lawsuit that sought to overturn the election of Gov. Christine Gregoire, the Wenatchee judge took a shot at Sims' proposal: "And clearly, the evidence here suggests that the problems require more than just constructing new buildings and hiring more staff." Republicans have been quoting the judge ever since.

Then on June 8, at a budget committee meeting, bipartisan members of the King County Council expressed skepticism about Sims' proposals. There is broad agreement on the council that the elections division needs to be consolidated from three locations into one building. Three reviews of the elections division—by the secretary of state, the Citizens' Election Oversight Committee, and former King County Elections Director Ellen Hansen—have recommended it. The council, however, is not convinced that buying the building on Rainier Avenue is the way to go, says Jon Scholes, an aide to council member Julia Patterson, D-SeaTac. Scholes says the council wants to find the best option for consolidation, and that could mean leasing a facility or using existing county offices.

Elections division spokesperson Bobbie Egan says, "We've found the right building. We're hopeful that we will seize this opportunity."

As for the staffing request, Scholes notes that three reviews of the elections division are under way, and the council might want to wait for the findings. Egan says the division's own internal review of the 2004 election made the need for new staffing clear: "We saw a big need for quality assurance positions. People who can analyze, double-check, and verify work."

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