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'Election integrity' issue finds its way into local Washington state races

caption: An elections worker removes ballots from a ballot sorting machine on Wednesday, October 28, 2020, at King County Elections in Renton.
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An elections worker removes ballots from a ballot sorting machine on Wednesday, October 28, 2020, at King County Elections in Renton.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Backers of former President Trump are making election integrity a campaign issue across the United States. But the issue has not dominated the race for Washington’s secretary of state — the state’s top election official. Nonetheless, mistrust in voting systems is an issue this year in some local races.

For the past nearly four years, Paddy McGuire has been the elected auditor in Mason County, a Conservative-leaning rural county in the southern part of Puget Sound. In that job he oversees county elections. This is familiar territory for McGuire. He’s worked in and around election administration for the past two decades – including a stint as deputy secretary of state in Oregon in the early-to-mid 2000s.

“When I started in this business, election officials were sort of treated like pharmacists, trusted innately,” McGuire said.

But McGuire, a Democrat, says those days are long since gone. This year, he’s up for re-election and he’s facing a Republican who’s running on an election integrity platform.

“The people of Mason County deserve better,” said Steve Duenkel in a recent interview with iFIBER One news. “They deserve better in terms of transparency and they deserve better in terms of integrity from what we’re getting right now.”

Duenkel is a former manager at Boeing who volunteered on his local Republican Party’s election integrity committee. He also boasts an endorsement from Douglas Frank, aka Dr. Frank, a self-described physicist and mathematician from Ohio who claims to have mathematical proof the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Duenkel did not respond to multiple requests for an interview from public radio and The Seattle Times. But in his interview with iFIBER One, he drew directly from the election integrity political playbook when he suggested that electronic voting machines can’t be trusted.

Washington, like Oregon, is a vote-by-mail state. Counties do rely on machines to tabulate the votes. But those machines are subject to logic and accuracy tests and they’re not connected to the internet. In super close races, there is a hand recount. Duenkel has also raised questions about the accuracy of Mason County’s list of registered voters — especially following a pair of super close local races in 2021 that went to recount. Sitting at a picnic table outside his county offices, McGuire says election officials face a toxic environment these days. And he admits to struggling to decide whether to run again for auditor.

“I think part of my motivation was that I didn't want elections in Mason County to be run by somebody who thinks that up is down and down is up.”

McGuire isn’t the only incumbent county auditor facing a challenger who’s making election integrity an issue this year. Check out the full in-depth story here, produced by Northwest News Network’s Austin Jenkins and The Seattle Times.

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