Clallam County Elections Supervisor Ken Hugoniot inspects ballots in August 2015 at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam auditor to replace elections supervisor after ballots mishap

Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs will start preparing this week to replace former Elections Supervisor Ken Hugoniot after 125 unopened, uncounted Nov. 8 election ballots were discovered Jan. 25 in a courthouse parking lot ballot box, she said Thursday.

Riggs, herself a former elections supervisor, said Thursday that Hugoniot resigned Jan. 26, a day after he discovered the error.

She said she will be working with the county human resources office in the next two weeks in the hopes a replacement for Hugoniot can be found by April 1.

“He gave me his resignation at the same time he told me what had happened,” Riggs said. “That was his decision.”

She said in the end, she bore responsibility for the mishap.

“Although the error was in the elections division, ultimately the buck stops with me as the auditor,” Riggs said Feb. 23.

“Ultimately it’s the responsibility of the county auditor to make sure we get the collections done correctly.”

But Riggs said Hugoniot did bear some responsibility for the foul-up.

“He was responsible for coordinating the pickup of the ballot boxes,” she said.

The auditor’s office also had not been following state law in the Nov. 8 election and in past elections by not recording the time that ballots were removed from ballot drop boxes, Riggs said.

Riggs, elected auditor in November 2014, had appointed Hugoniot, a Sequim resident, to the position in April 2015.

The position pays $52,829 in annual salary, not including $20,517 in benefits.

Riggs said she did not ask for his resignation but would not say whether she asked him to reconsider his decision.

Riggs said no other employees were disciplined but that “corrective action” was taken with election assistant Renee Mizar, a customer service specialist, that included “consultation” with Mizar.

The ballots were not removed from the drop box in the courthouse parking lot that is set aside for voters under the Americans with Disabilities Act that also is used by the general public, Riggs said.

That record will now be kept in a log that includes the time ballots were removed from the drop boxes, she said.

“Such a log may have revealed earlier that the drop box had not been checked after 5 p.m. Election Day,” Riggs said in a review of the incident that she released Monday titled “Final Report Regarding 125 Uncounted Ballots.”

Hugoniot’s resignation was noted in the report.

As an additional measure suggested by the state Secretary of State’s Office but not required by law, Riggs said a final check of ballot boxes will be performed after elections to determine that all returned ballots have been received.

In a 2014 review of election procedures, the state Secretary of State’s Office “suggested improvement in our verification notices, ballot storage, electronic ballots and replacement ballots,” Riggs said in the report.

She said those suggestions were “addressed” to ensure compliance with state and federal law, but in light of the recent incident, she has asked the Secretary of State’s Office to evaluate the procedures and practices of the elections office.

The ballots were discovered when the elections office inspected the parking lot drop box in preparation for the Feb. 14 special election, Riggs said in the report.

The choices that the 125 voters made could not be tabulated because the election already had been certified, but the voters’ records will reflect that they participated in the election. The ballots would not change any race on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Laura Casad of Port Angeles said last week she dropped off hers and her husband’s ballots in the ballot box that was not emptied.

She was among the 125 voters notified by the auditor’s office in a Jan. 30 letter of the “unfortunate discovery” of her ballot and the ballots of 124 others whom Riggs said in the letter “deserved better.”

Casad, whose name was listed in Riggs’ final report as having one of the unopened ballots, said she was not angry her vote was not counted because it would not have made a difference in the statewide election results.

Casad still was upset it happened.

“I wouldn’t go out and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute,’ but I still don’t like it,” Casad said.

“It seems to me there should have been more thoroughness there. That’s too important not to be thorough. That bothers me more than anything else, having them sit there all that time.”

Paul Gottlieb is a senior staff writer with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Shoona Riggs

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