ON THE RECORD/Contested election calls out King County
The last two presidential elections have taught this nation an important lesson: do not stay up all night waiting for results. In Washington, weary voters found themselves without a new governor until the end of December. After discrepancies were discovered in King County’s results, legal challenges and recounts kept the state on the edge of its seat. Dean Logan, former state elections director and current director of the King County Records, Elections and Licensing Services Division, recently talked with American City & County about partisan pressure, media scrutiny, voter trust and much more.
Q: Why did you leave as state elections director to go to King County?
A: King County is one of the largest and most complex electoral jurisdictions in the country. As state elections director, I observed the challenges the county faced in keeping pace with growth and technology while county revenues continued to decline. When I was asked to consider taking this position, the state was preparing to implement a new primary system and beginning to respond to the mandates of the Help America Vote Act, which I had worked on at the state level.
Q: In preparing for the November election, what problems did you hope to solve?
A: My goals were to ensure that all deadlines were met and to develop a voter outreach and education effort to encourage registration and participation. Additionally, I wanted to establish a communication plan to ensure that when issues or problems occurred with the election, we were able to utilize the media and stakeholder groups to communicate about those issues and keep the public informed.
Q: What did you learn, and what changes will you make for the next election?
A: The toughest job will be to convince those who care so deeply about the process not to seek radical change. The solution is not to throw away the processes, but train people to get up to speed on new systems, ensure old mistakes are not repeated, give us the time we need to humanly process record turnouts and change state laws [to] make success possible.
Q: How would you respond to voters in King County, and in general, who feel that they cannot trust the election system?
A: The elections of 2000 and 2004 have demonstrated the importance and value of a single vote. Our electoral process is conducted in an open, public and transparent manner. I encourage those with questions about how the process works to come and observe the level of detail and security provided to ensure that each vote is counted.
Q: How does the partisan political environment in this nation affect your job?
A: The year has been filled with heated point/counterpoint interpretations of each step we have taken. Small mistakes were nightly news headlines. Party leaders and their attorneys counter-interpreted our laws only for the courts to confirm the legitimacy of our process. The challenge is to get beyond the emotion of who is winning and losing and deal with the truth.
Q: Are you able to separate yourself from the controversy, or do you find yourself taking some of the problems personally?
A: Sadly, the nature of our political system, especially when the stakes are high and the margin so thin, is very divisive. Much of the rhetoric has become personal, and it has been hard to stay objective and keep things in perspective. The real challenge for me professionally is seizing the opportunity to [turn] all of the scrutiny and interest into improving things for the future. If I allow it to become personal — about me — it will be difficult to do that.