EVERETT — A rematch between two election insiders for county auditor will almost certainly have the same outcome as 2019, based on initial results Tuesday.
Garth Fell, a one-term incumbent with 24 years of county elections experience, led former election certification specialist Cindy Gobel, with an initial count of 59.7% to 40%.
“I’m proud to see a big showing from Snohomish County voters,” Fell said after initial results dropped Tuesday night. “It validates all the hard work we’ve been doing.”
In August’s primary, Fell led with 40.2% of the vote. Gobel followed with 32.8%. The two garnered enough votes to oust Robert Sutherland, a 2020 election denier and former Republican lawmaker running on greater election transparency.
On Tuesday night, Gobel watched the results come in at a party with the 38th Legislative District Democrats at Vintage Cafe on Hewitt Avenue, just blocks away from where Fell was overseeing ballot counting at the auditor’s office.
“I worked really hard in 2019, and I worked even harder this year,” she said Tuesday. “But you never know.”
As someone on the ballot and overseeing election results, “you have to be really careful,” Fell said.
After tabulating election results shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday, the printer at the auditor’s office ran out of toner while printing results.
“You didn’t see that,” Elections Manager Matthew Pangburn joked.
Fell has made it a point to run as a nonpartisan, believing the public wants a politically independent auditor. In 2019, he won the seat by 4,200 votes over Gobel, a Democrat from Marysville.
Fell began his career in King County elections and has managed elections in Snohomish County for 15 years. Gobel worked a decade in Snohomish County elections alongside Fell and five years in the secretary of state’s office, where she helped enforce election law under Kim Wyman.
The colleagues share similar views on many aspects of the job, but there are a few key differences.
Fell has touted an increase in ballot boxes — the county was not complying with state requirements in 2019 — and an office remodel to increase election security. His office has worked to increase public engagement through social media and two new employee positions focused on outreach.
Gobel has said Fell’s efforts are important, but not enough. She wants to see an auditor in the seat who goes beyond law compliance and “isn’t just sitting behind a desk,” she said. She also believes being upfront about political leanings and opinions is important for public trust, she said.
Just over an hour before voting ended, the auditor’s office reported 26.4% out of over 500,000 ballots had been returned.
Fell’s success Tuesday, if it holds, will keep him in the seat for the presidential election in 2024, his second as county auditor.