The race for King County elections director pits a veteran of the department who is nationally certified in elections administration against a perennial candidate who has no experience running elections but who says he’s done “a lot of studying and working in it, as far as writing in my blog.”
The nonpartisan elections-director job, sought by incumbent Julie Wise and challenger Mark Greene, is tasked with conducting at least four elections a year in King County. With 1.3 million registered voters, the county comprises nearly one-third of Washington’s electorate.
King is the nation’s largest county to conduct elections entirely by mail, and the director oversees a permanent staff of about 70 people that rises to as many as 500 at election time.
General election ballots must be returned by Nov. 5.
Wise, 39, lives in Enumclaw and began at King County Elections nearly 20 years ago as a temp answering phones. She said she worked “nearly every job” in the department over the next 15 years, before being elected elections director in 2015.
She stresses her nonpartisanship, says she has never been affiliated with any political party and is certified in elections administration by the Secretary of State’s office and by the National Association of Election Officials.
“People need to trust their elections and the elections administrator running their elections,” she said.
Greene, 65, lives in Federal Way, has training as a legal assistant and does odd jobs. He has frequently been affiliated with political parties.
Since 2012, he has run, unsuccessfully, for lieutenant governor (twice), U.S. House, state House, Federal Way mayor and Federal Way City Council. He has previously listed his party affiliation as Republican, as the Citizens Party and as the Democracy Independent Party.
He’s also started two parties, the Party of Commons and the Revived Citizens Party, but he said they’re more “independent organizations” than bona fide political parties.
Greene has not reported raising any money for his campaign, while Wise has raised about $11,000.
Wise’s campaign website touts endorsements from King County Executive Dow Constantine, Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, five members of the Metropolitan King County Council and the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, among others.
Greene’s campaign website features his policy platform interspersed with pictures of young women, including one in underwear and one brandishing boxing gloves. Greene said the photos are part of “trying to reach out to the younger voters.”
Greene proposes checking all new voter registrations with the E-Verify system, a federal program used by some employers to see if someone is authorized to work in this country, and doing hand counts of votes from randomly selected precincts to ensure they match the machine counts.
Wise, who calls herself “an elections geek through and through,” says the job is about balancing two objectives: removing barriers to voting while also ensuring a “safe, secure, zero-discrepancy, accountable elections system.”
She says she’s made progress on both fronts in her four years in office, completing everything she pledged to do in her 2015 campaign. She’s increased the number of ballot drop boxes in the county from 10 to 69 as of next month’s Election Day and has requested and received outside audits of the department’s physical building and its IT systems.
She also pushed King County to provide prepaid return postage on ballots, which caused the rest of the state to reluctantly follow suit. Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who endorsed Wise in 2015 but is not listed among her endorsements this year, had urged King County to wait on prepaid postage until a statewide plan was developed.
“My job is, within reason of course, to remove barriers to voting,” said Wise, who had previously conducted two pilot runs on prepaid postage. “There’s just a time when you have to say we need to move forward on this.”
Greene criticized Wise’s action on prepaid postage, and said her promotion of such issues was part of a pattern that “goes against the strict neutrality” that the department should maintain.
He also opposed the county’s decision to provide voting materials in more languages than mandated by the federal Voting Rights Act. That law requires localities to provide voting materials in other languages if there are 10,000 voting-age citizens of a single-language minority group who don’t speak English well enough to participate.
King County is federally required to provide all voting materials — including ballots, voters pamphlets and registration cards — in Chinese and Vietnamese, as well as English. But since 2016, the county has also offered all voting materials in Spanish and Korean.
And the county provides some materials, including its guide to voting, in 21 languages.
“It imposes extra costs on the county and we shouldn’t have to spend taxpayer dollars on that,” Greene said.
Wise said that waiting for the U.S. Justice Department to tell the county when it had to add new languages would take too long and they’d end up making the change “maybe five years after the fact.”
“We’ve had no issues with translation,” she said. “It’s much more proactive than reactive.”