Local news

Auditor, challenger spar over reforms

SATURDAY, OCT. 23, 2010

Dalton has made GOP-backed changes; rival wants more

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton accepted several election suggestions from Republican critics this week, but not enough to suit her general election opponent, Leonard Christian.

“You’re being a pain in the ass,” Christian told Dalton during a meeting Wednesday to review a long list of suggestions he and the Spokane County Republican Party submitted.

The informal session supplemented a county Canvassing Board meeting last week in which Dalton agreed to improve public notification of the board’s meetings to review and certify elections.

Dalton also agreed last week to inventory her supply of unused ballots more rigorously to make sure none is misused.

Perhaps the biggest unresolved issue was a complaint that Dalton’s name printed on mail-in ballot envelopes constitutes improper electioneering.

Dalton said Wednesday that there was no point in discussing that issue because it was in the hands of the state Public Disclosure Commission due to a Republican complaint.

Auditors across the state will work with the commission to determine whether a policy change is needed, Dalton said.

On Wednesday, Dalton agreed to “zero out” a spare vote-counting machine just before election results are certified – to demonstrate that it hadn’t been used. But she refused to do that daily as Christian and local Republican Chairwoman Cindy Zapotocky demanded. Experienced Republican and Democratic election monitors agreed that was a bad idea because it would erase evidence that a state-required test was the last use of the machine.

Dalton reluctantly agreed to look for an alternative to plastic tubs the Republicans said aren’t secure enough for transporting ballots from depositories at libraries.

She also agreed to look into Christian’s complaint that an eyehook system for sealing a storage room could be defeated.

But she rejected his offer to fix the problem with a hammer, as well as his offer to supply an air horn to compensate for the lack of a fire alarm. The county Facilities and Risk Management departments must be consulted, Dalton said.

She said the same goes for complaints that lighting and fire exits in the election office are inadequate.

Dalton refused to quit using a private courier service to ferry ballots from the downtown post office. Ballots are mailed to a post office box in order to prevent them from overwhelming the county’s mail system.

The couriers are bonded and have Homeland Security clearance, but Christian said he preferred Postal Service carriers because they can be charged with a felony if they tamper with mail.

He said he would get mail carriers to deliver ballots directly to the election office even though Dalton said the Postal Service refuses to do that.

Zapotocky vowed to take the courier dispute to the “next level,” but Dalton said there is no other level.

“It ends with me,” she said.

“There is another level,” Christian said. “Elect me.”

Dalton agreed that state officials need to consider “holes” in the ability of political party representatives to monitor some aspects of mail-in elections.

An example was Republican monitors’ complaint that tight federal security limited their ability to check procedures at the post office.

Some of the Republican suggestions are aimed at preventing remote possibilities for fraud, but Dalton said security lies in “layer upon layer” of precautions: “You have to have multiple failures before you have a real failure of the system,” she said.


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