For auditor, Mary Hall is the sure bet

Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall’s performance over the past five years makes her the obvious choice for another four-year term running the agency.

Hall, a Democrat, is more experienced in elections and executive roles than her challenger, Stuart Holmes, who is running as an Independent backed in part by Republicans.

Hall has the clear edge in demeanor, maturity and judgment.

Top missions for the Auditor’s Office include election system security, recording legal documents such as real-estate deeds, archiving historical documents, and providing good customer service for those who come to her office to buy car tabs and or license their motor vehicles.

Holmes is running a campaign based on attacking Hall, questioning some of her decisions such as adding passport processing services to the work of her small staff rather than focusing on archiving records.

But Hall says the US Postal Service has limited hours for passports, and her office is meeting a need, while archiving work is also being fulfilled. We agree with Hall’s priorities.

Both candidates have elections experience. Hall is a former elections supervisor in Pierce County; Holmes oversaw elections in Benton County. His current role in elections at the Office of the Secretary of State is also a credit to his resume.

In an interview with The Olympian Editorial Board, Holmes touted his work to revamp the My Vote web portal that lets Washington voters obtain tailored elections information for their races. He reported he was able to do that using existing and resources, which is also a plus.

But there are many issues for this office to handle, and the agency needs someone who is a strong administrator with calm demeanor and firm but cool judgment.

Unfortunately Holmes’ campaign has been quick on the trigger to hurl accusations that do not hold up. A complaint that ended up with the state auditor alleged that Hall’s executive assistant had been paid for more time than she actually worked over a period of years.

But, while Holmes raised a fair question, he leveled accusations against Hall without having looking closely enough at the facts.

It turns out that Hall’s executive assistant is an exempt employee whose regular schedule is Monday through Thursday. For such employees, time cards are automatically populated with 8-hour shifts for all five weekdays.

Neither Hall nor the state auditor believe a fraud occurred by having the staffer work a flexible schedule that includes long days, evenings, and even some weekends in a job that in effect makes the staffer “on call.”

The state Auditor’s Office looked at the Holmes allegation as part of its yearly regular audit of Hall’s operation to ensure it complied with financial accountability rules, according to Kathleen Cooper, the state auditor’s spokeswoman.

The agency found no evidence of wrongdoing, Cooper said this week.

Hall has demonstrated successes besides adding the passport services. She has a role monitoring finances of some other county agencies, and Hall reports that state audits are showing cleaner results for the county since she took office.

On another front, voter turnout has declined for decades, but we credit Hall for work to boost registration – including winning support from her county auditor peers for state legislation that in 2019 will start to allow voter registration up to Election Day.

Hall also took action to install a ballot drop box at the Evergreen State College campus, which her predecessors neglected.

Hall also has found ways to provide primary election voter pamphlets. In a word, that is leadership.

But the agency’s challenges don’t end there.

Whoever wins this race must still find ways to solve the longer term challenge in democracy, which is to get more of the newly registered voters to actually turn in ballots.

Having met Hall and Holmes, it’s our sense that Hall is the better choice. She strikes us as a no-nonsense leader who has high expectations but is measured in her reaction to problems.

This is a plus for a job that could require the auditor to sort through contested election results or accusations of voter fraud, which occasionally get raised – mostly outside our county – in our era of polarized elections.

Those in county government who are tempted to play loose with taxpayer money may want to think twice with Hall at the helm. If they don’t face a reckoning with state auditors, they may with Hall.

On balance, voters should feel comfortable giving Hall another four years to keep making improvements to the Auditor’s Office. We recommend a vote for Mary Hall for Thurston County auditor.