In a week or so, we'll know for sure which of about a dozen potential candidates for King County Elections director—an ostensibly nonpartisan position that's drawing a crowd of Democratic and Republican contenders—will actually run for the $160,000-a-year position in February.
On the list: A disgraced former elections director; an anti-electronic-voting activist who ran for secretary of state and lost; a former King County Council member whose estranged parents and sister campaigned against him; and a gun-toting, Mormon state senator with a longstanding grudge against the county council.
Whoever wins (the election is winner-take-all, with no primary) will have one of the toughest jobs in the state. The work is highly technical, and the job largely thankless. Elections directors only see their names in print when something goes wrong—as it did in 2003, when then-elections director Julie Anne Kempf was fired after an internal report said she lied about delays in mailing absentee ballots to voters.
Although county officials have had trouble filling the job (current director Sherril Huff, appointed in 2007, is not running to keep her job), that hasn't kept the race from becoming what one close observer called a "clusterfuck"—albeit one that is "kind of a derby between the blind, the lame, and the incompetent." Bizarrely, the sheer number of people running could leave state senator Pam Roach—the aforementioned gun-toting Mormon—the most credible contender, simply because people have heard of her before.
Part of the blame for the dearth of credible Ds running for this (again, ostensibly nonpartisan) position can be laid at the feet of King County Executive Ron Sims and officials at the state Democratic Party, who knew in advance that a measure making the elections director an elected position was likely to pass. Instead of getting mobilized months ago, Sims and the Ds waited patiently while King County Council member Julia Patterson wasted months agonizing in public over whether to run. When she announced she wasn't last month, the Dems were left without a backup plan.
They asked Bill Sherman, a former candidate for county prosecutor and state representative. He said no. They allegedly approached mayoral staffer Regina LaBelle, who also declined. (LaBelle denies being asked to run.) They even reportedly talked to two-time congressional candidate Darcy Burner. But she, too, wasn't interested.
The Democrats aren't entirely out of options. Even in this crop, there are standouts. Former elections director Ellen Hansen is, by many accounts, the most competent of the bunch; Seattle port commissioner Lloyd Hara, meanwhile, has the most name recognition among the Ds and will probably have the easiest time raising money. That matters in a two-month race that veteran fundraiser Colby Underwood estimates could cost upward of $200,000.
If Sims and the Ds will anoint a candidate and encourage the others to drop out—not an easy task in a field crowded with egos—we may see a Democrat in the elections office. Otherwise, get used to the idea of Elections Director Roach.