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Democrat Dalton hopes to fend off Republican McCaslin in race for Spokane County Auditor

Sept. 30, 2022 Updated Wed., Oct. 5, 2022 at 8:56 p.m.

In the past 25 years, five Republicans have faced off against Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton in the general election.

All have lost.

Matt McCoy, a business development manager for UPS, was the runner-up in 1998. Financial adviser Ralph Baker, who would later became county assessor, finished second four years later. Mike Volz, now a state legislator, tried next in 2006, followed by frequent campaigner Leonard Christian. The last person to come up short was real estate agent Alene Lindstrand in 2014. Dalton was unopposed in 2018.

Republican 4th Legislative District Rep. Bob McCaslin Jr. is hoping to break the pattern this November and end Dalton’s winning streak. The lawmaker is running for auditor instead of seeking re-election to the Washington Legislature, where he’s served since 2015.

County auditor races aren’t typically high-profile. Many people don’t even know what the auditor’s office does. It oversees elections, manages the county’s financial services, administers motor vehicle licensing and records legal documents, such as property deeds and liens.

Overseeing elections has put auditor’s offices into the limelight for the past few years. At a time when prominent Republicans are trying to cast doubt on the integrity of elections, Dalton v. McCaslin will be one of the most intriguing Spokane County contests this November.

The race could be a nailbiter. Dalton took 52% of the vote during the August primary election, compared to 48% for McCaslin. The stakes were low since both Dalton and McCaslin were the only two on the ballot, but the primary still provided an indication of which way voters are leaning.

Dalton, who grew up in Priest River, Idaho, has been an accountant and auditor since the early 1980s. She became Spokane County’s internal auditor in 1989. That independent watchdog position, which the county commissioners have since eliminated, evaluated how county departments handled money and recommended ways to improve accounting procedures.

After a decade in that role, Dalton became county auditor in 1999. An outlier among Spokane County’s elected officials, Dalton has been the lone Democrat to hold county office since county commissioner Bonnie Mager in 2010 lost her re-election bid. She’s also the county’s longest-serving elected official.

A number of prominent politicians have endorsed Dalton’s campaign, and they’re not all Democrats. Republican Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich is backing her, as is Sam Reed, a Lewis and Clark High School graduate who served as Washington Secretary of State from 2001 to 2013.

McCaslin graduated from Central Valley High School and has spent most of his adult life teaching elementary students and kindergartners. He has strong name recognition among Spokane County political followers, not only because of his time in the Legislature, but because his father, Bob McCaslin Sr., served for 30 years in the state senate.

As a legislator, McCaslin has often expressed his anti-abortion views, support for the Second Amendment and belief in states rights. He co-sponsored a bill with former 4th Legislative District Rep. Matt Shea that would have split Eastern Washington into a 51st state.

McCaslin has endorsements from U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Volz, Spokane Valley Mayor Pam Haley, Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns and his fellow 4th Legislative District lawmakers.

On the campaign trail, Dalton has said combating election disinformation would be her No. 1 priority if re-elected.

Voters have questioned the legitimacy of local elections for decades, Dalton said. But she said the tone of the conversations has changed and fewer are willing to listen when she tries to teach them about the county’s election processes.

“The volume and the unfounded, unsupported allegations are much different than what we had in the past,” Dalton said. “The lack of basis in reality has significantly increased since 2020.”

False and misleading claims of fraud are threatening America’s government, she said.

“I think there is a lot of harm being caused by these baseless, unfounded allegations,” Dalton said during a debate with McCaslin at Valley Assembly of God. “These allegations are undermining peoples’ trust in the elections process, and that in the long term is going to undermine peoples’ willingness to participate in their government and to respect the laws and rules that are passed by legislators.”

The challenge, Dalton said, is figuring out how to share information in a way that assuages fears and combats misinformation and disinformation. She said the state’s county auditors are working together on a messaging strategy that she hopes will help address the problem.

If McCaslin has any specific thoughts on Spokane County elections, it’s unclear what they are. He didn’t respond to requests for comment and chose not to participate in debates hosted by the League of Women Voters and The Spokesman-Review.

The lawmaker has participated in attempts to audit the 2020 election, though.

During the 2021 legislative session, McCaslin unsuccessfully attempted to pass a law that would have required counties to hire private businesses to audit their 2020 elections. In August 2021, he co-hosted a meeting in Snohomish County headlined by Seth Keshel, who tours the country arguing that President Joe Biden’s victory appears to have been illegitimate based on past voting trends.

This spring, McCaslin supported an effort to audit Spokane County’s 2020 election. A subcommittee of the Spokane County Republican Party led the proposal and asked the county commissioners to authorize a thorough review of the entire elections process. The group’s leader, Spokane County Republican Party State Committeeman Matt Hawkins, said he has no evidence of fraud but believes county elections have been compromised.

The commissioners said they lacked the legal authority to grant the request and have declined to meet with the subcommittee a second time. Former Washington secretaries of state in August strongly criticized the group after it claimed, without providing evidence, that the county’s voter registration records are “unclean.”

While McCaslin has shied away from interviews and debates, he hasn’t been completely silent on elections. He shared some general thoughts earlier this year with the Spokane Valley News Herald.

“Really, I don’t have any proof of wrongdoing,” McCaslin told the paper. “I’m not running for this because I think there are serious problems. I just think I can contribute really positively to this.”

Based on Facebook posts, McCaslin has adopted “easy to vote and hard to cheat” as his campaign slogan.

On his campaign website, McCaslin lists transparency, fiscal responsibility and accountability as his top priorities.

Dalton has defended the way her office runs elections and said county auditors have extensive safeguards in place to catch fraudsters and ensure votes are counted accurately.

“Over the last two decades, my staff and I have ensured that voters in Spokane County do have an election system that’s safe, secure, accurate and accessible,” she said in March after announcing she would run for re-election.

In addition to combating election disinformation, Dalton said she wants to continue working on several projects her office is tackling.

For example, the county is replacing its human resources and accounting systems, Dalton said. She described it as a major undertaking that will create a standardized system for the county’s departments.

Dalton said her office is also working toward digitization.

The county makes approximately $500 million in payments every year, she said, and the goal is to make county transactions increasingly paperless.

“We’re going to be moving completely, or almost completely, away from paper checks,” Dalton said, explaining that she believes the change will pay dividends for the county, its vendors and its customers.

Document recording is becoming increasingly digitized, too. That’s a boon for people who have to record documents with the county, Dalton said. Making a correction to a paper document can take weeks, but fixing an error on a digital one can be done in 15 minutes.

“A lot of what we do seems mundane to people, but it impacts peoples’ lives, whether it’s your car, your house, your marriage certificate or your ballot,” Dalton said. “All of these functions impact your life.”

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