EVERETT — Outgoing state Rep. Robert Sutherland is pondering a run for Snohomish County auditor next year, potentially putting the Republican who questioned results of the last presidential election in charge of counting ballots in the next one.
“It is fair to say I am seriously contemplating running,” he confirmed last week.
Sutherland, who lost re-election to the state House in November, said he got a good response from party activists when he revealed his interest at a Snohomish County Republican Party meeting earlier this month.
“I’ve not decided whether or not I will pursue that race,” he wrote in an email. “I will say those present seemed very happy about that possibility, based on their applause.”
In the meantime, Auditor Garth Fell and Cindy Gobel, the candidate Fell defeated for the job in 2019, are already on course for a rematch. Each formed a political committee and filed paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission to raise money.
In their 2019 duel, Fell captured 51% and finished with roughly 4,200 more votes than Gobel.
“I am certainly proud of the work we’ve done and what we’ve been able to accomplish this term,” said Fell, of Meadowdale, last week. “There’s more work to do.”
One major project entails consolidating election-related operations in one place, the third floor of the county’s Administration Building. Required renovations could be completed by the 2024 primary, Fell said.
Another focal point, he said, is expanding use of social media outlets to disseminate information that will bolster the public’s understanding of and trust in the election process, he said.
Gobel, a Marysville resident, worked in the voter registration unit of the county’s elections division before moving to the certification and training division of the Secretary of State’s Office in 2017. She left that job in August.
Though she lost, she said she felt “very positive” after the 2019 election.
“There’s work to be done in our county so I am going to run again,” she said.
That work includes finding ways to get more young people to vote and to ensure the community’s diverse population is fully engaged in the electoral process, she said.
Sutherland’s entry would add at least one interesting wrinkle. Three candidates would trigger a primary, which didn’t occur in 2019. And though the auditor is a nonpartisan job, it won’t feel that way if Sutherland enters the race.
Since 2020, Republicans who embrace former President Donald Trump’s lies of widespread voter fraud costing him the election have run for local and state election offices across the county.
Steve Duenkel is one such voice. In November he became Mason County’s new auditor after beating the incumbent.
Neither Gobel nor Fell voiced concern about Sutherland joining the race. Nor did either criticize his past calls for a forensic audit of Washington results, in which President Joe Biden collected 58% to Trump’s 39%.
“I’m not surprised to hear he’s interested in running. The more the merrier,” Gobel said. “I think he has a message that does appeal to some people. I think our voters need options. They should have very high expectations for this office.”
Fell said he’ll trust the electorate.
“Ultimately voters get to decide who will lead the office. Voters want an experienced proven professional in this position,” he said. “I am willing to put my record in front of voters and against any candidates who they are qualified for the position.”
Sutherland, who will be replaced in the Legislature next month by Republican Sam Low, has time to decide.
Candidate filing for the 2023 election cycle is in May.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;
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