Retiring Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel at the courthouse in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Retiring Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel at the courthouse in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Weikel’s retirement ends an electoral era in Snohomish County

Her tenure featured historic ballot battles and persistent efforts to boost voter participation.

EVERETT — Carolyn Weikel is loaded with stories.

Like the one about Sacagawea dollars.

When she assumed command of the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office in 2007, her mentor and predecessor, Bob Terwilliger, gave her five for use in the rarest of occasions: to break a tie in an election.

When she exited office Tuesday, a result of term limits and retirement after 43 years in public service, she left three Sacagawea dollars for her successor, Garth Fell.

Through the years, two precinct committee officer contests required a coin flip to settle. Each time the winner got the post and the loser got a coin.

Then there was the time she was asked about the possibility someone might rappel from the ceiling of a county building to mess with ballot-counting equipment.

This was 2004. Snohomish County used touchscreen voting machines then. They weren’t connected to the internet. Republicans were fine with them, she recalled. Democrats, however, “were absolutely sure they were rigged because there was no paper ballot to count.”

When it came time to download results in the facility, Weikel said, “I was asked how were we sure that people would not come in through the ceiling and tamper with our voting machines. I told them there is a layer of concrete between the ceiling and the floor above it.”

Her tenure featured historic ballot battles, constantly changing primaries and a revolution to make voting easier.

Weikel, 66, grew up near Boston and graduated from college in Massachusetts with a teaching degree. When she moved to Washington to be closer to siblings in the mid-1970s, the absence of classroom opportunities led her to a job in King County and a career in public service.

The job of county auditor is a bit of an odd gig. There’s no auditing. Overseeing elections is the most-talked-about task, yet the auditor’s office is where thousands go to license their pets or their vehicles or to record documents.

“It gave me the same satisfaction to help individuals to get what they needed,” she said of the job. “As I tell my staff, people come to us because they have to, not because they want to. It’s our job to make them leave feeling like they were heard and they were respected, even if they didn’t like what we were saying.”

She supervised the King County auditor’s licensing division before coming to work in Snohomish County in May 1990. She started in the licensing division and became elections manager in 2003.

She captained the elections ship until getting appointed auditor — the first woman to hold the job in Snohomish County — in January 2007. She ran unopposed for a full four-year term that fall. She won re-election in 2011 and 2015, both times unopposed, as well.

Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel holds up three of fives coins given to her by her predecessor, for use in deciding election ties. The missing coins were given to the losing candidate after the coin toss to decide the winner. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel holds up three of fives coins given to her by her predecessor, for use in deciding election ties. The missing coins were given to the losing candidate after the coin toss to decide the winner. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Managing elections proved a good fit.

Growing up, her parents discussed and participated in politics. Her dad, Patrick Fitzpatrick, was an insurance broker who raised money for Republicans. But because of his name, “people thought he was a Democrat,” Weikel said.

“When I got to elections, it felt very comfortable working with both parties and staying nonpartisan,” she said.

It could have been a smoother start, however.

She assumed command in January 2003 amid a simmering controversy from the election two months earlier. There had been a mess with ballot counting when some machines failed to read voters’ marks because of deteriorating equipment. Republican observers questioned an anomaly of low totals in one race and, upon further review, “a ton of votes” had to be added, Weikel said.

There were more controversies ahead.

Remember Washington’s pick-a-party primary? In 2004, voters got three different colored ballots, one each for the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties. If you did not mark the box for a party, none of the votes counted, which peeved a lot of voters.

A few months later came the historic duel between Democrat Christine Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi for governor. It took three tallies of ballots. Gregoire won the last, which was a statewide hand recount.

In the course of the process, Weikel’s team garnered attention. After the initial tally, a couple of her election workers found a mail tray that was supposed to be empty but had a couple of hundred ballots in it.

“I just remember hearing ‘Carolyn’ and looking over to see them standing there, looking down into this tray. Here was this batch that had never been counted,” she recalled.

In 2005, at Weikel’s direction, the auditor’s office developed the state’s most sophisticated accountability system to enable a ballot envelope to be tracked from the moment it reaches the elections office through tabulation.

The next year the county abandoned polling places and touchscreen voting machines and went entirely to voting by mail.

This past decade, state lawmakers focused on clear impediments to voting. Ballots can be put in a designated drop box or returned by mail, postage-free. And people can now register and cast a ballot on Election Day.

It’s been an awesome run. Yet as Weikel departed, she acknowledged frustration with the difficulty of keeping voters engaged year-round, every year. While turnout is in the neighborhood of 80% for presidential elections, it’s less than half in most odd-year elections and less than a third for many special elections.

“There’s something missing,” she said. “What is lacking is the connection that the water district, the fire district, the city council are all making decisions every day that impacts their lives.”

If schools offered civics lessons on local government, it might help build a stronger foundation for participation, she said. A new law allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister as voters — they’ll automatically get signed up when they are eligible — could provide a boost.

She’s hopeful these changes will lead to a rise in turnout.

If it does, it’ll be a story for the next auditor to tell.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

Rose Freeman (center) and Anastasia Allison of The Musical Mountaineers play atop Sauk Mountain near Concrete in October 2017. (Ian Terry / The Herald)
Musical Mountaineers’ sunset serenade to launch Adopt a Stream campaign

The nonprofit aims to transform into an “accessible model of sustainability,” with solar panels, electric vehicles and more.

A Marysville firefighter sprays water on a smoking rail car at the intersection of 116th Street NE and State Avenue around 8 a.m. Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
Rail car catches fire, blocks traffic in Marysville

Around 7:20 a.m. Thursday, firefighters responded to reports of smoke coming from a rail car near 172th Street NE, officials said.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

Firefighters transported two people to hospitals while extinguishing an apartment fire near Lake Ballinger in Edmonds Wednesday.
2 injured in Edmonds apartment fire

At least nine people were displaced by the fire on 236th Street SW, officials said. Nearly 50 firefighters responded.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff place a radio collar on a Grizzly Bear in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife / Wayne Kasworm)
For grizzly bears coming to Cascades, radio collars will keep close tabs

Tracking an apex predator is tricky. GPS collars play a central role in a controversial plan to repopulate grizzlies in Washington’s wilderness.

Maplewood Parent Cooperative School seventh and eighth grade students listen to Mason Rolph of Olympia Community Solar speak about different solar projects during a science class for the student's Sustainable Schools engineering units on Friday, June 7, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
How can Edmonds make new schools more sustainable? Students have ideas

In a town hall Friday, students from Maplewood Parent Co-op will make pitches for the soon-to-be rebuilt College Place schools.

Pride flag vandalism raises concerns on Whidbey Island

Reports of theft involving LGBTQ+ pride-themed displays have increased around South Whidbey.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.