Major Mitzi Johanknecht, an unknown name in politics, overtook incumbent King County Sheriff John Urquhart in the first ballot count after allegations of sexual misconduct dogged his campaign.
Major Mitzi Johanknecht, a relatively unknown name in politics, overtook incumbent King County Sheriff John Urquhart in the first ballot count after allegations of sexual misconduct dogged his campaign. Photo courtesy of the Johanknecht campaign.

Some voters didn't remember her name when they dropped off their ballots in downtown Seattle on Tuesday morning. "I voted against Urquhart," one voter told The Stranger. "Not the incumbent," said another. "I forget the name."

But after 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, the county's first ballot drop showed King County Sheriff candidate Mitzi Johanknecht—a long-time captain in the department and the first female SWAT team leader—in the lead over incumbent sheriff John Urquhart by nearly 10,000 votes.

With an estimated 92 percent of the ballots counted for King County, Urquhart would have to win nearly 60 percent of the remaining vote to overcome Johanknecht's lead.

Urquhart has not conceded, the Seattle Times reports. "Never say die," he told a crowd of supporters last night.

Talking to voters downtown and in the International District on Tuesday morning is by no means scientific exit polling, but for the voters The Stranger did speak to, sexual assault allegations against Urquhart loomed large in their minds. Johanknecht has also criticized Urquhart over separate allegations of gender discrimination at the Sheriff's Office.

One former King County deputy came forward last year to accuse Urquhart of raping her 14 years ago. Prosecutors didn't charge Urquhart—they said there was a lack of evidence and the statute of limitations had expired—but the King County Ombudsman did find that Urquhart had a conflict of interest when he decided not to have the Sheriff's Office internal investigations unit document or investigate the rape allegation.

More recently, that same accuser won a temporary sexual assault protection order against Urquhart, claiming that he offered to share her medical information with the public. Last week, political consultant Monisha Harrell told the Seattle Times that Chris Barringer, Urquhart's chief of staff, offered to share with Harrell a medical file on the accuser to discredit her.

Separately, another former deputy, Brian Barnes, told the Times this fall that Urquhart had groped him in a Renton parking lot in 2014. Barnes has also complained to the Sheriff's Office that Urquhart improperly distributed information about his personnel record in order to discredit him. (Urquhart denies that he inappropriately shared any records, and that Barnes' personnel file was never accessed outside of public records requests.)

The latest criminal accusation is now being investigated by Renton police, and the King County Ombudsman is investigating Barnes' second claim, as requested by the Sheriff's Office internal investigations unit.

Urquhart has vehemently denied the sets of allegations from both accusers. He also filed a defamation suit against Barnes, claiming that the former deputy has accused elected officials of misconduct before elections in order to retaliate in the past.

Nevertheless, a host of Urquhart's endorsers—who, before the allegations became public, greatly outnumbered Johanknectht's—rescinded their support of the incumbent sheriff shortly before the election.

Several of the endorsers who backed out criticized Urquhart over his handling of the allegations specifically.

"I am out of patience for accused harassers questioning the credibility of their accusers, and if true these latest reports are a particularly egregious example of that," state legislator Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) told The Stranger. 

Last Friday, Urquhart removed the list of his endorsers from his website and claimed that Johanknecht's campaign team was "harassing our endorsers." Johanknecht's team did not respond to The Stranger's request for comment, but last week, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington sent letters to all King County Council members asking them to rescind their endorsements, and asked all local leaders to "take a stand against rape culture."