Certified election administrator numbers are low as midterms approach

Paul Florence, News Reporter

With the midterm elections just around the corner, Walla Walla County Auditor Karen Martin let her elections certification lapse at the end of 2021. County auditors keep elections offices up and running by registering people and counting ballots. Being certified means that the administrators have gone to a conference and completed the basic “Elections 101” training. They also must pass a 100-question test based on the Washington State Constitution, the revised code of Washington and the Washington Administrative Code with 80 percent accuracy. With Martin’s certification lapsed and two certified county administrators having quit in August, there will be only one certified election administrator running Walla Walla County’s elections.

The county’s long-serving Election Supervisor David Valiant resigned on Aug. 17, right after the primary elections. Another elections administrator also left, leaving Morgen Bradshaw-Morgan holding down the fort as the only certified election administrator. Bradshaw-Morgan was named election supervisor at the beginning of October. One new county employee is expected to complete the certification process this spring.

In 1992, following an extremely close legislative race that called for recounts with inconsistencies, errors and mixed results, a law passed requiring all counties to have at least two certified election administrators. Martin, who is running for reelection for Walla Walla County Auditor this year, addressed the situation. Martin claims that it is not unusual for small-sized counties, such as Walla Walla, to have difficulty meeting this requirement. 

“Counties are in different situations, and becoming certified presents its own challenges. One of the reasons that I decided that we didn’t need four of us was because I was already going to have three,” Martin said. 

However, the requirement to be certified in elections administration is analogous to a CPA, Martin claimed. The certified election administrator is more of a title than a job; it’s more of an accreditation of their skill. 

However, Martin spoke about whether this would have an impact on this year’s election.

“It shouldn’t have any impact,” Martin said. “We are not the only county enrolled in the state of Washington that is short on certified election administrators. This is not a position we haven’t been in before, either.”

She also addressed how the Secretary of State’s office deals with the understaffing. 

“That’s one thing they look at. How many of you are certified if we’re understaffed, and then do you have anybody working on the process? So long as we’ve got somebody in the process, then they usually don’t have a problem,” Martin said.

Marjorie Sanborn, Martin’s Democratic challenger, feels that being certified is part of gaining voters’ trust.

“While I understand Martin’s decision … the training was in the budget, and the expectation when the County Commissioner puts money in the budget is that it’s necessary and spent,” Sanborn said.

Sanborn advocates for the value of electoral education and disagrees with Martin’s reasoning that this is a problem other counties have faced before.

“Any time you have an opportunity for knowledge and education, you take it. Make sure your constituents are getting the value they voted for,” Sanborn said. “This excuse with saying that other counties are understaffed is like saying mediocrity is okay.”

Washington Secretary of State Deputy Director of External Affairs Derrick Nunnally spoke about helping understaffed communities run their elections efficiently.

“This office continuously works with elections officials statewide to ensure each county has sufficient resources to conduct accessible, accurate and secure elections,” Nunnally said. 

The Walla Walla County Auditor is not required by state code to be certified. The Washington Secretary of State’s office has been actively working with these counties to resolve short-staffing.