Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney during an interview at the sheriff’s department June 17, 2020. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney during an interview at the sheriff’s department June 17, 2020. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Auditor denies Fortney recall group the extra time it seeks

He said he could extend the deadline for signature gathering if ordered by a court or the Governor.

EVERETT — Residents petitioning to recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney say the pandemic is creating “unprecedented challenges” in collecting signatures, so they are seeking an extra 90 days to turn them in.

The Committee to Recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney asked Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell to extend the March 9 deadline into early June, citing the difficulties posed by limits on person-to-person contact to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“As registered voters within Snohomish County, we have a constitutional right to hold elected officials accountable by way of a Recall,” Colin McMahon, chair of the recall committee, wrote in the group’s Feb. 18 request. “The COVID-19 pandemic, and responsive restrictions related thereto, have created a hindrance of access to this constitutional right.”

And, McMahon pointed out, waiving an aspect of election law would not be unprecedented in the pandemic. Gov. Jay Inslee acted last year to ease rules allowing indigent candidates to file for office. At the time the governor waived a signature-gathering alternative, an option in lieu of a filing fee.

On Monday, Fell turned down the request because he lacks power to grant it — with a caveat.

“After reviewing the State and local laws related to the recall process and to emergency proclamations and powers, I have concluded that I do not have the legal authority to extend the deadline for submission of signatures set by statute,” he wrote. “If directed to extend the deadline by an appropriate court of jurisdiction or by an active and applicable order from the Governor, my office will comply.”

State law provides 180 days for signature gathering for a recall.

Those seeking to oust Fortney began their effort Sept. 11, 2020. Recall petitions contain three charges. Two are tied to Fortney’s public criticism of Inslee in April, when the sheriff stated in a viral Facebook post that Inslee’s stay-home order amid the coronavirus pandemic was unconstitutional, and that his deputies would not enforce it.

A third charge stemmed from the rehiring of three deputies who had been fired for misconduct by the previous sheriff.

To qualify for the ballot, the committee has until March 9 to submit at least 44,494 valid signatures of registered voters to the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office. If successful, an election would be held between 45 and 90 days after the signature count is certified by the county elections staff.

McMahon said Tuesday he was “somewhat disappointed” in Fell’s response and the group is “now in the process of reaching out to State officials with this request and hope to have it granted very soon.”

They are exploring whether to submit it to the Secretary of State’s Office or governor’s office, he said.

And there’s still a lot of confidence the signature-gathering goal will be reached by the March 9 deadline.

“When people find out about the recall, they are almost always eager to sign the petition to allow this to come to a vote,” Robin McGee, the committee vice chair said in a news release. “If not for a global pandemic, we would have already reached our goal of 50,000 valid signatures.”

Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: dospueblos.

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