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Ballot envelopes disputed over auditor’s name, status

Cindy Zapotocky shows ballot envelopes bearing Auditor Vicky Dalton’s name and status as a certified public accountant.  (John  Craig)
Cindy Zapotocky shows ballot envelopes bearing Auditor Vicky Dalton’s name and status as a certified public accountant. (John Craig)

A Republican complaint to the state Public Disclosure Commission accuses Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton of electioneering by printing her name prominently on ballot envelopes.

Dalton dismisses the complaint out of hand, but the Disclosure Commission doesn’t.

The issue isn’t new, but “times have changed” with the introduction of vote-by-mail elections, according to Doug Ellis, the commission’s interim director.

“You’re seeing that the kitchen table becomes the voting booth,” Ellis said. “It could be perceived that they (auditors seeking re-election) have an advantage to have their name right there in front of the voter in the voting booth.”

Chuck Skirko Jr., president of the Spokane County Young Republicans, saw it exactly that way in the complaint he filed.

“It’s electioneering, in our view,” said Cindy Zapotocky, chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party.

According to Dalton, putting her name – including the fact that she is a certified public accountant – on ballot envelopes helps voters hold her accountable.

“I am not going to be an anonymous elected official,” Dalton said.

She noted that elected officials throughout the state routinely include their names in return addresses on correspondence with constituents.

However, Ellis said, some auditors don’t put their names on ballot envelopes.

He said a state law that took effect this year seeks to curb a similar practice in years when officials are up for re-election. Elected officials no longer can use their names, voices or photographs in public service announcements in the months leading up to an election.

Removing auditors’ names from ballot envelopes when they’re on the ballot is “similar to what the Legislature’s mindset was moving toward,” Ellis said.

He said the Public Disclosure Commission has discussed the issue with the Washington State Association of County Auditors, of which Dalton is vice president.

“It’s still in the discussion phase, but I think we will work something out with the auditors in the coming year,” Ellis said.

The commission doesn’t feel it can dictate to the auditors and is looking for an “accommodation,” Ellis said.

Meanwhile, he said, the commission will resolve the complaint against Dalton in the same way similar complaints have been handled: by determining whether her name on ballot envelopes is “normal and regular.”

If a return address has always been included on correspondence and it’s always the same, it’s probably OK.

If an elected official’s name gets bigger, bolder or more colorful when the official is up for re-election, there may be a problem, Ellis said.

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