Seattle Courant

Elections Director and Party Politics

By Lydia Sprague
February 1, 2009 02:02PM

Both the King County Republican and Democratic parties have officially endorsed a candidate. Democrats have chosen incumbent Sherril Huff and Republicans are throwing their weight behind David Irons.

What's the problem?

Well, Toby Nixon, the former Republican state representative from Kirkland who spearheaded the signature campaign to get the amendment on the ballot last year, said that he's concerned by reports which show Democratic party support for Huff in the form of e-mail and telephone campaigns, and that King County Executive Ron Sims and Washington State Democratic Party chair Dwight Pelz are running her campaign.

Pelz denied that he and Sims are running Huff's campaign, but he's not surprised by the accusations.

"It's politics," he said.

But it's not just the Democrats, Nixon said Republicans have supported Irons with telephone campaigns.

However, even Pelz said, "I don't think that Republicans are running David Irons' campaign, but I think they support him."

In terms of money, it appears that Irons' best supporter is himself.

"He donated $100,000 to his own campaign," Pelz said. "I think it's a conflict of interest that someone running to oversee elections is trying to buy the race."

"No one owns me except the voters," Irons said. "I refused to take any party money. One organization sent me money and I sent it back."

Back to Pelz's candidate, Huff, she snuck on the ballot through a list-minute technicality. Until the campaign began last December, Huff, 63, lived with her family in Kitsap County. But because the law requires that the director of elections reside in King County, as of Dec. 10 - the cutoff for filing as a candidate - Huff rented a home in South Seattle.

One of her opponents, Chris Clifford, challenged her legitimacy as a candidate and filed a complaint with the county Canvassing Board. According to a report by the Seattle P-I, Clifford's request to exclude Huff from the race was rejected, but his lawsuit is pending.

"When a position becomes an elected position it becomes political," said Huff. "You can't eliminate that."

Even with the political party involvement, Nixon said Huff and Irons are good examples of candidates who have kept the debates about the issues, such as: the number of polling locations available for disabled people, same day registration and what it means to have a non-partisan elections director.

"I've found it to be a very issue-based election," Irons said. "Two candidates have been waving the swords and the other four of us have been talking about the issues."

Nixon said he's disappointed that there hasn't been more coverage of the election in the news.

"Sunshine is the best disinfectant. The best way to make it non-partisan is to fully publicize the partisan aspects," Nixon said.

Huff, Irons and Nixon agree that turning the elections director position from that of an appointee into a non-partisan elected official is beneficial to the voters.

"It ensures that voters have a say," Huff said. "Voters have a strong ownership of the office. It will be very dependent on the leader of this organization to keep it independent."

King County was the last county in the state to have an appointed director of elections.

The campaign ends on Tuesday. According to Irons only 14 percent of King County voters had cast a ballot as of Wednesday night.

And Huff said her office has been inundated with calls from voters who are miffed that King County is spending $3 millions to hold an election for a single issue.