Two candidates are running for Kitsap County auditor, which is responsible for: conducting elections; auditing county payments, financial reporting and payroll; recording property records; licensing vehicles and vessels; and issuing marriage licenses. The issue that looms large for many voters is election integrity.
Auditor Paul Andrews (D) was elected in 2018 and received 59 percent of the August primary votes. Mike Simpson (R) received 40 percent. He previously served on the Bremerton City Council.
What’s the biggest challenge for auditor in the next few years?
Andrews: Ensuring the public’s trust in elections will be the biggest challenge as misinformation is rampant. Election deniers are trying to subvert our democracy.
Increasing growth puts more demand on our service. Improving our website with additional services will help support citizens’ needs. A recent grant we received will add over one million new historical documents to our database that can be searched and printed.
Simpson: Returning integrity to the office. Our government was not created to dominate our everyday lives, but simply to serve us in a nonpartisan way. Equal treatment from our government should not hinge on a party preference. When our elected officials do not approach public service with the heart of a servant they soon lose their way and fail all of us. Integrity serves as the contract between We the People and our elected officials. Without integrity, there can be no trust in our public servants.
How will you ensure that elections are secure and transparent?
Andrews: Security begins with voter rolls; we make over 80,000 edits per year keeping voter information up to date. Information from Social Security, Department of Health, Department of Licensing, USPS, Electronic Registration Information Center and the public are used to maintain our database of 205,000 registered voters.
In my first term, we installed a camera to live stream ballot processing, all election audits, and our canvass board, which allows the public to watch us work from the comfort of their own homes. We have worked with the local political parties and independent observers in creating the most transparency. All election equipment goes through HASH testing before every election to guarantee the software is exactly as certified. We perform additional audits of ballots to assure accuracy. To assure proper chain of custody of ballots, we use tracking devices from the ballot box to our office. We put a lot of emphasis on both physical security and cyber security. The computers we use are not like your home computer, as they do not use Bluetooth or wireless technology. They are not connected to the internet and have secure USB ports that restrict access of non-authorized devices. We also have regular audits from the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary of State, county IT department, and independently contracted security companies.
Simpson: We can increase voter trust by simply holding people accountable when the law is broken. Last year a candidate allegedly offered to buy votes. The auditor reportedly failed to hold that candidate accountable. Mail-in voting works for many but additional emphasis must be placed on in-person voting. Increasing the number (3) of polling stations in Kitsap is a must. Random batch audits of our ballots by an outside party will create an independent check on the accuracy and integrity of our election system.
How would you characterize the county’s financial situation?
Andrews: I provide oversight on county financial obligations. The county has an AA+ credit rating by S&P, higher than most government agencies. We have spent several years bolstering our reserves and positioning for a financially responsible future. The treasurer’s office has built a balanced investment plan that provides flexibility to react to changing markets. I have worked diligently to do my part to maintain fiscal responsibility that is within my control.
I am an independently elected official that answers to the public, not the county commissioners. I audit the business of the county and report to the public. My office just received — for the second year in a row — the Government Finance Officers Association Triple Crown award for Excellence in Financial Reporting, which less than 10 percent of government agencies receive.
Simpson: The auditing function of the office is limited to the finances of county government. The office ensures the county only spends the funds it has received on what it was supposed to. With the current auditor, we have seen the office shut its doors (during the pandemic) and severed its connection with the very people it was created to serve. Although there are now more online options, many were denied the in-person service required to get the job done.
Public records go unanswered. That has to stop. Those documents belong to the people and are simply held in the care of the auditor’s office for safekeeping. It should not take more than six months to receive a reply.
Why should people vote for you rather than your opponent?
Andrews: Experience matters. Auditor is not the place for on-the-job training. I have managed $1.6 billion, receiving the best state financial reports the county has had in over 12 years. Excellent financial reporting allows the county to maintain its high credit rating. I have conducted 16 elections, including the largest in county history, with transparency, accountability and integrity. I understand my roles and responsibilities to the citizens of Kitsap County and will continue to provide the best possible services to our citizens.
Simpson: If you want your vote to count, vote for a new auditor. When elected officials lock out the public they fail us. Those officials now operate inside a bubble and make decisions that flagrantly disregard the will of the people.
The auditor broke the law by changing City Council district boundaries in 2021. Only the councils are allowed to change those. The auditor also broke the law by not informing the city of Bremerton the boundaries had changed prior to the election.
The auditor’s office has had several problems with communication, accuracy, accountability, compliance, timeliness and integrity over the last 3½ years. We can do better. We deserve better. It is we the people who must hold the auditor accountable.