Three candidates face off for County Auditor’s primary election

The three candidates for Grays Harbor County auditor gave their view of the office, their qualifications and fielded questions at an open house forum at the Hoquiam Timberland Regional Library recently.

Current auditor Chris Thomas of Montesano, a Democrat, appointed by Grays Harbor County commissioners in September 2017 after the retirement of longtime auditor Vern Spatz, said his office has been able to make some positive changes since he took the helm.

“I’ve been working with staff to make some positive changes in the office,” he said. “I’ve made it through two elections with a 10 percent budget reduction,” adding there have been no issues in either of those elections.

During his short time in office, he implemented a new software program that makes the auditing of ballots more secure and much easier, he said, and he was able to secure the expensive program for $100,000 less than the market price. He applauded the new, clear ballots implemented for this primary election, which also makes it easier to accurately handle ballot counts.

Two new ballot boxes are slated for installation, Thomas hopes, before the primary election, one in Oakville and another in Westport. More are to come, as dictated by recent changes in state law saying counties must provide drop boxes in any municipality with a post office.

“We were able to save $5,000 by getting donated drop boxes,” he said. “We’re putting them up in a tier system as we get approval and funding through the county commissioners.”

Thomas said he is a hands-on boss with experience in all facets of the office, including licensing, and said county elections are more secure than ever.

He said he is planning to soon implement a credit/debit card option for fees associated with licensing; currently it’s cash or check only.

Joe MacLean, a Republican candidate, moved to the county after serving a decade working as an election official for Okanogan County.

The past five years he’s worked for the Secretary of State’s Office elections division, consulting with all 39 counties and offering suggestions how they can improve their own elections processes.

“When I worked in Okanogan County, we were able to find solutions despite budget cuts,” he said. Since taking the job with Secretary of State Kim Wyman, he said he’s looked at the elections procedures of each county and has written a dozen reports offering his advice for how they can be improved.

MacLean, like Thomas, said he would be a hands-on auditor. “I know all the systems and how they work,” he said.

Hoquiam mayor Jasmine Dickhoff, a Democrat, admitted she does not have direct elections experience, but noted elections are only a small part of an auditor’s daily job. She said her decade of public service as a city councilwoman and mayor has taught her how to delegate responsibilities in a government work environment.

“I can maximize finances and am an advocate for providing the best customer service,” she said. “It’s one thing to say that, it’s another to do it,” she said, adding she believes her track record within the city of Hoquiam shows she is able to get quantifiable results and accomplish the goals she sets for herself. She pointed out she has surrounded herself with a quality staff at the City of Hoquiam, and said “I love government and want to make it a full-time job.”

Ballot security and access dominated the questions from the 30 or so people who attended the forum, hosted by Our Revolution/Democracy Rising, a group that describes itself as a social justice organization that seeks economic equality, environmental justice and civic involvement.

When asked about making ballots accessible via website, meaning voting directly on-line, all three candidates said, while ballot access is important, recent cases of hacking from overseas sources into elections means security is paramount. All agreed that if such a system proved to be completely secure and impervious to hackers, it should be looked into, but in the current environment such a system looks to be a ways off.

MacLean was asked if he had designs on running for Secretary of State, to which he said no. He was asked why he landed in the county and how he came to be a candidate for the office.

When he was hired in Olympia, MacLean said, he searched 30 minutes outside of downtown Olympia, and when he walked into the Dennis Company “three people said hello, how are you, and not one of them worked there.”

The friendly nature of the residents made him take root in the county.

Dickhoff was asked, as she often has been since throwing her hat in the ring, if she would continue to serve as mayor of Hoquiam if she was elected auditor. She said she would, adding that she checked with the Secretary of State’s office and was told there would be no conflict between serving the two offices simultaneously.

Primary election ballots, 41,800 of them in the county, were mailed out as of July 18.

The top two candidates will advance to the general election.

Mailed ballots must be postmarked on or before Aug. 7 to be counted. Some changes Thomas mentioned include the new “clear ballot,” which no longer have squares to fill in, but ovals.

Because of legislative changes, write-in candidates must declare their candidacy; if not, any votes for an undeclared write-in candidate will not be tabulated.

Also new this year, ballots are postage paid through an $18,000 grant from the Secretary of State and Governor, and an additional $8,000 through the county for the printing of the envelopes.

Thomas expects voter turnout to run about 32 percent, based on similar recent primary elections.