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Originally published September 22, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 22, 2005 at 11:36 AM

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Few polling problems cited

An independent observer from the Secretary of State's Office yesterday suggested that King County's primary election went so well the drastic...

Seattle Times staff reporter

An independent observer from the Secretary of State's Office yesterday suggested that King County's primary election went so well the drastic measures aimed at fixing the troubled elections office may not even be necessary.

"I think they deserve the chance to show that they can pull it off," said Sheryl Moss, the observer and a member of the Citizens' Election Oversight Committee.

Moss was one of dozens of observers, including those representing the Democrat and Republican parties, who scrutinized poll workers and the handling of ballots this week. Some of the observers had been trained by the county before the election.

The elections office has instituted dozens of new procedures in an effort to rebuild voter confidence after a series of mistakes in 2003 and 2004. Even so, Elections Director Dean Logan acknowledged there were "bumps along the way" at a news briefing Tuesday night. But in general, he insisted, the election was a success.

And although some critics cited anecdotal tales of poll workers giving voters erroneous information when problems arose and poll books that didn't contain the names of eligible voters, some who scrutinized the primary said it appeared to go well.

"Elections are a series of zillions of people doing zillions of things and doing them correctly," said A.J. Culver, chairman of the Citizens' Election Oversight Committee. "The best you can hope for is to approach 100 (percent). You're never going to get 100."

What problems there were apparently were caught, said Bobbie Egan, elections spokeswoman.

For example, 266 voters mistakenly received duplicate ballots for the primary. But county workers called each voter and asked the voter to destroy one of his or her ballots. The county's voter-registration system keeps track of ballots as they come in, so the system won't allow more than one ballot to be counted for each voter, Egan said.

However, King County Councilman David Irons, R-Sammamish, who is running against County Executive Ron Sims in November, said the elections office still has to fix its shortcomings.

"We're hoping that none of the elections will be so close that they will be potentially impacted by the myriad of continuing problems under the current administration," Irons said.

Whether elections workers actually stopped all 266 voters from casting both their absentee ballots remains to be seen, Irons said. He said Tuesday's election was hampered by "unsure" poll workers who didn't have enough chances to ask questions during their training sessions.

But Egan said workers were able to ask questions during extended, three-hour training sessions and could even attend the training twice.

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Sims spokeswoman Carolyn Duncan said the executive was happy with the smooth election but she said he still planned to hire a "turnaround team" recommended by a task force to oversee the November election.

"I think the task force was very, very firm that they believed that we needed a turnaround team implemented, and I think we'll move forward with that," she said, adding that the county would have to keep performing well to earn and keep the public's trust.

Seattle Times staff reporters Sharon Pian Chan and Keith Ervin contributed to this report.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

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