Clyde Mitchell wants to go to a polling site to cast his ballot. If he can’t vote at a polling site, he wants to know where he can go to vote in private.This story ran in the Whitman County Gazette on October 12:
The Whitman County auditor’s race has been in the spotlight this election season. The topics surrounding the race between Republican incumbent Eunice Coker and Democratic challenger Nathan Horter have focused on voter accessibility, information and education from the auditor’s office. As the general election draws to a close, the pressure has increased and several people have started to vent.
Mitchell is a quadriplegic. He said the Whitman County Auditor’s Office has not provided enough information to county voters about where people with disabilities can vote in privacy. He said there are about 2,000 people in the county with disabilities.
The county has four voting machines at the county courthouse in Colfax and Pullman City Hall.
Mitchell said that information was not available to him, and he filed a complaint with the Washington State Auditor’s Office and Attorney General on Oct. 22, claiming Coker has not done her job to inform voters on how to use the new mail-in ballot system and inform people with disabilities where they can vote.
Coker said she provides as much information as her budget will allow. She also has talked with newspapers, radio stations, sent out press releases and tried to be available for questions.
“It is her responsibility to tell us,” Mitchell said. “I want the state auditor to hand down all the effective penalties.”
Nick Handy, director of elections for Washington with the Secretary of State’s office, said Mitchell’s complaint will be reviewed.
Handy said his office has no regulatory power over the county auditors. He said his office works with the counties to help them become compliant. So far, he said, Whitman County is in compliance.
“We will have to take a look at it,” Handy said.
Horter said the combination of the county changing from a poll-site system to a mail-in-ballot system, new election laws and his campaign focus on providing more election information has formed the perfect political storm.
Coker said a lot of misinformation has surfaced during the campaign. She’s heard stories of people in the office hanging up on residents and not trying hard enough to provide service to voters, none of which are true, she said.
Horter said he has tried to run a clean campaign and focus on making the auditor’s office more accessible and increase voter education and information.
Campaign volunteers have given people misinformation on a few instances, Horter said. He immediately contacted the voters and corrected the information.
“Our intent is not to make anyone angry,” he said. “We just want to make the office the best it can be.”
Horter said many people cling to their voting rights. He said a lot of people are confused about the changes in the county’s voting system and it breeds discontent and anger, and some people want to lash out. The easiest target is the auditor’s office.
“The state Legislature has made a lot of the changes,” Horter said. “Using the county’s Web site and providing a county voters’ pamphlet could clear up the confusion.”
Coker says she plans to broaden the auditor’s Web page and increase voter education to the extent of her budget.
She said it’s not the responsibility of the auditor to personally reach out to every voter. It is her responsibility to answer questions and fix problems when they arise.
She said she has done that.
Mitchell contends that Coker broke state and federal laws by not creating a committee focused on discovering ways to ease voting for people with disabilities. The committee should involve the county’s disabled community.
Coker said the mandate came down early this summer to organize an advisory committee involving the disabled community. She said there is no timeline to establish the committee, and the list of disabled organizations the state gave her office were all located in Spokane. She said she has not been able to get ahold of people in Whitman County thus far.
“We are trying,” she said. “And we will be in compliance.”
Coker said she would have appreciated Mitchell calling her office for help. She respects his decision and she prefers a legal complaint instead of people calling and leaving irate phone messages.
A Pullman man who said he wanted a ballot called and left a derogatory phone message Tuesday.
Coker said the county prosecutor and a sheriff’s deputy are investigating the man for making threats against an elected official.
The investigation surrounding the administrative leave of county payroll clerk Frank White is not being drawn out for political reasons, the county auditor said, despite charges from local Democrats.Boy, damned if you do and damned if you don't. Eunice is trying to install an elevator for handicap accessibility and she is catching it from Mitchell on one side and Horter on the other.
Republican Eunice Coker is running for election for the auditor seat against Democratic challenger Nathan Horter of Pullman. The two face off in the Nov. 7 general election, for which ballots go out next Friday.
Coker is the only county incumbent to face a challenge.
"If fraud has taken place, my concern is there might be attempts to keep this out of the public sphere," Horter said. "I think it's important we have a prompt, public disclosure."
County Democrats chair Carolyn Cress made similar remarks to the Gazette.
Coker dismissed the Democrat's statements on the possible stall of the White investigation.
"That's just fine and dandy," she said "Just because there's a campaign, I'm not going to sweep it under the rug. I'm not hiding anything."
Coker placed White on administrative leave with pay at the close of his workday on April 7. As of the beginning of May, White has been on sick leave, Coker said. She said White had "a lot" of sick leave and has not taken vacation time.
A temporary worker has been hired in White's absence.
Coker declined comment on specifics and did not rebuff rumors on why White is being investigated. She did say "Certain things that have to do with his health currently affect the timeline.
"I can't speak on it right now because it delves deeply into personnel and privacy," Coker said.
Coker said the only people who know the full story are the county prosecutor, the human resources director and she. A few other county employees are "privy to certain aspects" of the investigation because they were solicited for aid, she said.
On when the investigation would close, Coker had no timeline, bit said, "It cannot go on forever."
She said there might be a point at which she would consider the "hardship on the county" as an impetus to closing the investigation.
At this point, the investigation has only completed the "investigatory interview" on the situation, she said. The employee, White, then is given the opportunity of rebuttal or telling his side of the story.
"We haven't had the opportunity to have the meeting with him yet," Coker said. "It's not to the point where it's disciplinary."
Horter also questioned Coker's leadership skills.
He said he is focussing his campaign on improving government transparency and voter outreach from the auditor's office, but he did have concerns on some policy decisions.
"I think Eunice has done a passable job," he said.
For instance, he said Coker's grant request for federal voter funds to replace the courthouse elevator should have been made to increase voter outreach instead.
Coker submitted a grant in the $300,000 range at the beginning of this year to replace the courthouse elevator as part of overall courthouse improvements to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. She said the grant, which has been approved at the state level, is still awaiting federal approval.
She said the elevator is not a "pet project" of hers.
"We've looked at what we could do as a team, as a county, on how to be ADA accessible," she said.
Horter said other sources of funding should have been sought for the courthouse improvement, not the voter funds.
"There wasn't leadership to push for other funding," he said.
Horter will have to push for more votes in the general election to contend with Coker. In the pick-a-party primary, Coker received 4,528 votes to Horter's 2,031. Horter said he was not surprised by those results given the high-profile Republican nominations for open seats for District 9 state representative and District 3 county commissioner.
Coker and Horter will be in attendance at the candidate forum Oct. 18 at 7:30 at Pullman City Hall. The forum is sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Pullman Chamber of Commerce.
Horter has tried to run a clean campaign? BS. I know many more details about the Democrats' charges and the parties involved, but I will not violate confidences placed in me. The whole story will eventually come out.
We've seen scurrilous letters to the editor from partisan hacks with libelous anecdotal ("my cousin's friend's brother didn't get a ballot") accusations on an almost daily basis. But this is stooping to a new low, even for that nest of vipers that is the Whitman County Democrats.
The same people that want to impeach President Bush for "illegal" wiretaps and that want to give Constitutional protections to al-Qaeda terrorists now want to expose private details of a man's personal life for political gain. To try and accuse Eunice Coker of sweeping the White investigation under the rug when she is legally bound to protect privacy is beneath contempt. If Horter were running a "clean campaign," he would repudiate this vicious, personality-motivated fishing expedition. But he won't. He's neck deep in it.
I'll be glad when voters send him packing next Tuesday.