Election Solutions?

Task Force on Elections recommends eliminating poll sites and electing a King County auditor.

An all-mail voting system and an elected auditor to run the King County's embattled elections office? Those are among the proposals being advanced by the King County Independent Task Force on Elections after a quick study and interviews with 40 people involved in the county's elections process.

But first "a seriously flawed" elections system has to be fixed, the task force found. Its ailments include "a climate of fear" that dissuades employees from informing their supervisors of problems and causes general unrest among the troops. As one anonymous employee told the task force in a survey, "I am so disgusted at the conduct of our supposed leadership, I want to puke. They are lifetime bureaucrats who are lazy, incompetent, and rule-bound. Don't let them get away with avoiding the consequences of their actions."

The initial findings, presented to King County Council members last week, will be followed up by final recommendations in July, says chair Cheryl Scott. The report arrives when morale is at a low ebb in the elections section of the King County Records, Elections, and Licensing Services Division, the task force determined. The division's director, Dean Logan, "retains the confidence of elections section employees who believe he is an ethical leader with strong technical skills," the task force reports. But there's an "unhealthy organizational culture" that fails to ensure compliance with election laws and procedures, "ineffective or poor" communications between senior managers and elections staff, a clear lack of training needed for the office to function properly, and a "leadership structure that may lack the skills and resources to achieve needed organizational healing."

Logan, who recently demoted his No. 2 man, Elections Superintendent Bill Huennekens and made other changes, told his staff in an e-mail last week, "The results of the survey are significant and the findings/analyses very candid and direct. Frankly, the survey reflects the instability in our organization and highlights some clear deficiencies in leadership, communication, training, and morale."

In the survey, which workers filled out anonymously, one staffer observed that while "Mr. Logan says that he has an open-door policy, it is just hard to find the door open," and that "Huennekens can't conduct any kind of a meeting. We can all tell when he either is bored or doesn't comprehend something by his constant playing with his BlackBerry." In a prepared statement, Logan said the county has "launched an aggressive recruitment for a new superintendent of elections with a management background and proven success in the administration of a complex, highly scrutinized, public sector organization."

In the worker survey (34 of 47 elections employees responded), almost 95 percent said office communications were at best fair, at worst poor. More than 85 percent felt the same about the quality of written procedures. About 80 percent thought morale was fair to poor, and about 70 percent said they were not proud and, in fact, were embarrassed about working in the department. Said one worker: "Whenever anyone asks where I work, I'm humiliated before I even say anything."

Noting that King County is the only county in the state that doesn't place elections under the direct supervision of a separately elected official, the task force advanced the idea of an elected auditor, pointing out that some of the officials interviewed as well as some members of the task force "believe an elected auditor with primary elections responsibility would increase accountability to citizens, be better able to advocate for improved technology and resources, and establish an independent elections system."

Similarly, an all-mail voting system would replace what is now "the simultaneous conduct of two dissimilar elections." In 2004, 565,011 people voted by absentee/mail, and 330,000 voted at polling places. "Both elections processes contain independent, complex, and often conflicting requirements that have clearly caused significant problems for King County elections officials. Elimination of traditional polling place elections by conducting all-mail elections would simplify elections procedures and could increase voter participation in smaller special or off-year elections."


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