For Elections Director, Nixon won’t be the one

Nixon lost his bid for the State House. But he's also ruling out a run for head of King County Elections, authorized by an initiative that passed last week and he helped get onto the ballot.

  • Wednesday, November 12, 2008 2:14pm
  • Opinion
Former 45th District Rep. Toby Nixon

Former 45th District Rep. Toby Nixon

As dust settles from last week’s election, a bit is also stirred. King County voters enacted several amendments to the County Charter, among them changing the county’s Director of Elections from being an appointed position answerable to the King County Executive to that of a nonpartisan elected position answerable directly to the people.

Last year’s successful countywide Initiative 25, spearheaded by former State Representative Toby Nixon, R-45th District, and the grassroots organization, Citizens for Accountable Elections, provided the impetus for the change. Supported overwhelmingly by the voters then, it repeated the performance this year as Charter Amendment 1.

Speculation now runs rampant: who will run?

One thing for certain is that Toby Nixon will not be the one.

In a post-election interview, Nixon, who ran unsuccessfully to reclaim his former seat in the Washington Legislature, disclosed his firm decision not to seek the office despite being inundated with dozens of requests – some from senior public officials – to seek the post.

When asked why, he expressed concern for the impact the job would have on his family and for his desire to continue in his position at Microsoft. While a legislator’s job is part-time and policy-focused, the Director of Elections will be more than full-time and responsible for managing millions of taxpayer dollars, 70 full-time employees and, during election season, hundreds of part-timers.

After careful consideration, Nixon determined that the position isn’t for him even as his passion for underlying policy and election integrity issues drove him to push for making it an elective position.

Calling the job a pulpit from which to discuss election integrity and related issues, an elected Director will become not just a county or statewide spokesperson on them, but also a national leader since King County is, he said, perhaps the 13th largest elective jurisdiction in the United States – larger, he added, than 11 states.

Additionally, a new Director must hire good people, understand technology and its application to the electoral process, anticipate problems and hold employees accountable, and be well organized year round since the county conducts elections year round.

That King County will go to all mail-in ballots next year making it second only to Oregon in terms of national jurisdictional size to conduct elections that way adds a unique wrinkle to the office.

Contending that the election function hasn’t been well represented in county government because it sits several layers down in the bureaucratic pecking order, Nixon stressed that the new Director be a strong manager, committed to openness, honesty, transparency, security, and privacy in the electoral process.

A successful Director needn’t be a career politician or bureaucrat – when asked whether a business professional experienced at managing complex processes to a zero defect result might work, Nixon emphatically said yes, though no one meeting that description has been identified as a possible candidate.

To date, only King County Council Member Julia Patterson, D-Burien, has been publicly touted for the post. Other privately floated names include several well known Democrats and Republicans – some currently in elected or appointed office and some known for their interest in election issues.

Nixon plans to continue as president of the bi-partisan Washington Coalition for Open Government while remaining active in local issues such as the annexation of Kingsgate, Finn Hill and Juanita.

We won’t see Toby Nixon on the ballot for Director of Elections, but don’t count him out of a ballot for some future, policy-rich elected position.


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