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Six vie for King County elections director job

Joshua Adam Hicks/Reporter Newspapers The six candidates for King County are from left: Bill Anderson, Chris Clifford, Sherril Huff, David Irons, Julie Kempf and Pam Roach. - CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Joshua Adam Hicks/Reporter Newspapers The six candidates for King County are from left: Bill Anderson, Chris Clifford, Sherril Huff, David Irons, Julie Kempf and Pam Roach.
— image credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By Joshua Adam Hicks
Bellevue Reporter

Six candidates for King County elections director squared off in a debate on Thursday, vying for the right to head a department historically plagued by mistakes.

Voters for the first time will decide who gets the job on Feb. 3.

The elections director was previously an appointed role until voters decided to make it a non-partisan elected office last November.

Voter turnout for the Feb. 3 special election is expected to be over 30 percent, due to the county’s first all mail-in election, although fewer than 10 spectators were on hand for the candidate debate at the Seattle Public Library’s Central Branch.

The list of candidates includes some of the region’s more controversial politicians.

Current King County Elections Director Sherril Huff joined the race after telling the media in December 2007 that she wouldn’t run if voters made her job an elected position.

One of the challengers, Orting School District English teacher Christopher Clifford, is challenging Huff’s eligibility in King County Superior Court and with the county Canvassing Board. He claims that Huff doesn’t really live in the Seattle home that she recently began leasing.

All candidates for King County elections director must reside in the county.

Huff lived in Bremerton when she first landed her position, but she changed her voter registration two days before filing for the race.

Candidate Julie Kempf has a deep understanding of how elections work, and it shows in her ability to talk shop.

Kempf was the King County elections superintendent until 2002, but Executive Ron Sims fired her after a screw up with absentee ballots.

Internal reports indicated that Kempf lied about the mistake, although she claims to have passed along information that she believed to be true at the time.

“I didn’t perform enough due diligence on information that had been given to me before I gave it to the press,” Kempf said. “That’s a mistake I’m never going to make again in a public leadership position.”

Kempf told the Reporter that she became the fall guy for her boss at the time.

“I’m sad that I was scapegoated for what was a much larger problem,” she said.

Candidate David Irons is a former King County Council member whose mother said that he knocked her down during an argument 14 years ago.

Irons ran an unsuccessful bid to unseat King County Executive Ron Sims in 2005. He is a telecommunications entrepreneur who says that his management experience will help him administer fair elections.

“This is a new office,” Irons said. “It’s all about experience, knowledge and proven leadership.”

Candidate Pam Roach is a Republican state senator from the 31st Legislative District who made headlines years ago with a rant that she gave on the Senate floor following the mysterious removal of flowers from her office desk.

Roach serves on the Senate Operations and Elections Committee. She has shown strong support for the initiative process, and was also a prime sponsor of the Help America Vote Act.

Her detractors have said that she has a history of erratic and inappropriate behavior.

“I believe I’ve been very effective in the Senate, but I do think a change of venue for me would be good,” Roach said. “I have a very specific knowledge about elections that not many people do.”

Candidate Bill Anderson has a seemingly unblemished record, albeit untested.

He says that his experience as a bank industry executive and software engineer has given him the experience to manage ballot-counting more effectively than anyone else.

“I have experience handling a very large number of checks, transactions, and people and callers,” Anderson said. “We need to have someone in the elections director position who has that kind of experience.”

The next elections director will make $146,000 per year, oversee a budget of over $19 million, and administer up to six elections a year.

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