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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Auditor has can’t-do attitude

The Spokesman-Review

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton doesn’t think her office can verify signatures in time to put a recall effort against Mayor Jim West on the Nov. 8 ballot.

After all, it’ll take three or four weeks to verify that all the signatures collected by organizer Shannon Sullivan and her followers are from legitimate city voters, and there’s a primary election to run on Sept. 20. Sure, Dalton can hire temporary workers to check computerized voter records, but they’ll need training. In the middle of all this activity, the auditor expects a representative from the Washington State Patrol to drop by to train her staff on voter verification.

Rather than accommodate the most important grass-roots political effort in recent memory, Dalton’s can’t-do attitude could become a stumbling block.

Everyone knows her office will be hard-pressed to count up to 17,000 signatures that could be turned in any day now. But that doesn’t mean the counting procedure can’t be done in time. It’s Dalton’s job to see that it is. Spokane has been hampered by a vacuum of leadership since spring when news reports disclosed that West was involved in sexual improprieties. Unless Dalton tackles that job, the present hiatus could continue well beyond the November election until a vote can be held, possibly into next year. Recall organizers deserve better than half-hearted measures. Spokane deserves better, too.

Even supporters of Mayor West should be pushing Dalton to make the extra effort to place the recall matter on the November ballot.

West won’t have a chance to govern again effectively unless the voters confirm they want him in office. West has been the subject of rumor, innuendo and national talk-show humor as a result of revelations that he, a notorious anti-gay rights crusader, used the perks of office to solicit sex from high-school age men. At the rate that Sullivan and her supporters have been gathering signatures, it’s highly probable that they soon will have enough to qualify the matter for a ballot.

Tom Wilbur, a former superintendent of Spokane County elections, was surprised when he heard from The Spokesman-Review that Dalton’s office would need up to a month to validate the recall signatures. “It’s almost mind-boggling to say that it will take four weeks to do it,” he said. “That’s ridiculous.” Wilbur remembered an effort in which his office verified 30,000 signatures in three days.

Cost is another reason Dalton should push to get the petition drive counted for the November election rather than drag her feet. A special election will cost $140,000 to $160,000 – a steep price for a strapped city that’s hemorrhaging red ink. A battalion of part-time employees verifying petition signatures around the clock should be far less expensive than that.

In the wake of the count, recount and re-recount fiasco during the 2004 Washington governor’s race, Dalton can be forgiven for being somewhat cautious about getting things right this year. However, bureaucratic immobility in the face of a populist movement isn’t welcome in a public servant.

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