Politics & Government

Updated: Nick Handy quitting as state elections director

Handy, a longtime Olympia public figure, is leaving his post as Washington state elections director at the end of the year. His public service career has included roles as executive director for the Port of Olympia and top policy assistant to former Republican state lands-commissioner Brian Boyle, and he ran an unsuccessful primary campaign to replace Boyle in 1992.

Handy joined Secretary of State Sam Reed's staff seven years ago and was among those put under a microscope in court during fellow Republican Dino Rossi's failed challenge of the 2004 gubernatorial vote count. The ever-articulate elections leader will be replaced by his two assistant elections directors, Katie Blinn and Shane Hamlin, who are to serve as acting co-directors while the top job remains vacant to save money.

Here is Reed's news release:

Reed had high praise for Handy's "outstanding and exemplary" service, and accepted his resignation with regret.

"Nick is highly regarded throughout the state elections community and is considered one of the best directors in the country," said Reed, himself a longtime Thurston County Auditor and former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

"Nick Handy helped put Washington on the map as one of the top cutting-edge states for election reforms, including our voter registration database, online voter registration system, our popular voter-approved Top 2 Primary and excellent outreach to the military and overseas voters, younger voters and the minority community.

"With Nick's invaluable leadership and a great partnership with the Legislature, Governor and our County Auditors, we have successfully moved through the rough waters of the 2004 governor's election, and adopted literally hundreds of improvements in our elections process. Today, I believe public confidence has been greatly restored and we are seeing robust voter turnouts and a high degree of civic engagement."

Handy said his tenure at Elections has been the highlight of a 35-year career in public life that included years as deputy Attorney General, executive director of the Port of Olympia, deputy director of the State Office of Marine Safety, and chief policy assistant to the state Commissioner of Public Lands.

"We all want to 'go out on top,' and this feels like a great time," Handy told election officials in a recent email announcing his departure. "From the challenges we all shared in 2004 to the successful election just concluded, I am so proud of the improvements we have together brought to Washington elections."

Handy said his future plans are yet to be determined, but that he will probably not retire. He said his departure was designed, in part, to help the agency cope with deep budget cuts that have required layoffs at the Elections Division and throughout the Office of Secretary of State. His position will not be filled until the economy recovers and budget restoration is possible.

Handy is a graduate of the University of Washington and Willamette University College of Law. He is married to Thurston County Superior Court Judge Paula Casey. They have two adult children, Esther and Ben.

Katie Blinn and Shane Hamlin, currently the division's assistant directors, will share the director's role. Blinn, an attorney and former deputy prosecutor, was nonpartisan counsel in the Legislature before joining Reed's elections staff in January, 2005. She will focus on legislative relations, policy issues, legal issues and media relations.

Hamlin joined Reed's office as legislative liaison and executive policy assistant in 2004 after serving as policy analyst for the state Senate, and became assistant director of elections in November of 2007. He will focus on administration, including personnel, budget and technology. Both he and Blinn will work closely with the elections community, led by the County Auditors and the King County director of elections.

UPDATED original 11:20 a.m. post to fix coding error.