Kitsap Auditor hopefuls debate

Kitsap County’s interim auditor believes his department has created an inclusive atmosphere for voters, but his election opponent maintains there is still too much room for voter fraud and careless mistakes.

“We haven’t found any instances of voter fraud,” said Walt Washington, who was appointed last year to fill out the term of the retiring Karen Flynn. “We just received an elections review from the Secretary of State’s office and we were rated 100 percent clear. We revise our processes every year and have an A-1 organization.”

“They haven’t found any voter fraud because they haven’t looked into it,” said John Clark, who is challenging Washington in the Nov. 4 election. “I think more scrutiny has to be given to the people who are registering to vote, and looking for fraud. Just because we are not looking for it, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.”

He added, “When it is easier to register to vote than to board a plane and fly to Phoenix there is something wrong with the process.”

The candidates were speaking at the Eggs and Issues breakfast forum, sponsored by the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday morning. It was their first face-to-face debate in this election season.

After the forum Washington said he felt he got his message across, since “most of the questions were directed at me.

“I was looking forward to this,” Washington said. There are people on the far left and people on the far right who will vote for a D or an R. But there are so many people in the middle who don’t know who I am. That’s why I like doorbelling, because it gives people the opportunity to answer questions and let people know who you are. Once people meet me and find out what my experience is and what I stand for, it’s a no-brainer for them to vote for me.”

“I am happy with the way this went,” Clark said. “It gave us an opportunity to talk about a lot of issues that we disagree on, and talk about what we stand for, who we are and how we want to run things.”

One of the biggest disagreements is their respective views about vote-by-mail, which has been in effect for almost two years in Kitsap County.

Clark opposes the process, saying that it disenfranchises voters. Absentee voting should be an option, he said, but a physical polling place should be the default.

“I realize we have to cut the budget,” Clark said. “But to do it at the expense of the democratic process is wrong.”

Clark also feels that mail-in voting leaves the door open for voter fraud, and that forcing voters to register in person lessens the chance of unauthorized people casting ballots.

Washington favors the mail vote, both as a process and a means to save money.

“He wants to go back to poll-site voting,” Washington said of Clark. “This is a tremendous expense. I don’t know how he would get that past the county commissioners and into the budget. He wants to take us back, into a regressive position.”

“Clearly, I think the difference between us is what we perceive as voter outreach,” Clark said. “Along with the duties and the responsibilities of the Auditor’s Office to actually monitor voter registration, making sure that people who register are legally entitled to vote. This is a function of the office that needs to be managed much better than the way it is today.”

The candidates also have a different view about multilingual ballots, even if that is not yet an issue in Kitsap.

“Speaking English as a second language can be difficult,” Washington said. “Some ballot measures are written in a way that yes means no and no means yes. If you can put the ballot in a language that the voter understands, it is a a good thing.”

“English is our official language,” Clark countered. “If someone doesn’t understand the ballot they can get an interpreter. I don’t think it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to pay for the printing of ballots in several different languages.”

Washington, 62, worked as chief deputy in Flynn’s office for a year before she stepped down in March, when he was selected by the Democratic party to fill her unexpired term.

Clark, 53, a local real estate broker, is the Republican nominee.

Neither candidate has ever served in an elected position. For this reason, Clark doesn’t recognize Washington as the incumbent.

“According to Merriam-Webster I am the incumbent,” Washington said. “I took an oath of office to do all the duties, to abide by the Constitution of the United States, the state of Washington, and the county of Kitsap. (Superior Court) Judge (Jay) Roof swore me in and I swore to do the job to the best of my abilities and I will do that.”

Washington, however, introduced himself on Tuesday as the “interim” auditor, which Clark interpreted as a victory.

“I guess we’ve kind of won that argument,” he said. .

Walt Washington and John Clark discuss their qualifications for the auditor's job:

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