In Our View: Likness Known for Neutrality

Retiring Clark County elections director has shown sharp management skills

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Tim Likness has always understood the crucial differences between the political side of an election and the administrative side. Many people in the media and elsewhere who have known Likness for years could not tell you if he's a conservative or a liberal.Such an unassailable neutrality has been crucial for Clark County residents, because their elections have been overseen by Likness for 31 years. Tuesday marks the last major election for Likness; he will retire as elections supervisor in April. During his three decades in the office, Likness has maintained an immutable devotion to two critical needs in our community: accurate election results, and an abiding public confidence in the process.

For that, Likness has earned widespread respect from the entire Clark County population, and especially among the county's 242,857 registered voters.

One sign of a good leader is the ability to prepare a seamless transition to a successor. "Although Tim will be greatly missed, his success in management and training means that the department will continue to run smoothly after he leaves," County Auditor Greg Kimsey said on Friday. "The team that he has assembled over the years is superb." Likness, 61, supervises a staff of seven full-time workers, including assistant elections supervisor Cathie Garber, who is believed to be the leading contender for the job. Kimsey would not comment on possible candidates for the job.

Likness has continually immersed himself in the finer details of elections administration. He's seen just about everything the job has to offer. Most memorable likely will be the 2004 gubernatorial election, believed to be the closest race for governor in American history. It took a machine recount, a manual recount, a judge's ruling and seven months before that race was decided. Ultimately, Chris Gregoire won by just 133 votes, out of 2.8 million votes cast. And Likness was right in the thick of the action, all the way from November to June, making sure the integrity of Clark County's election system was upheld. Likness also will long remember 1994 when Linda Smith, as a write-in candidate, won the race for local congressional representative.

He experienced another exciting event (actually, almost all elections are exciting) in February 2005, when voters in unincorporated areas were presented with a ballot measure proposing a metropolitan parks district in those areas. In what many believe was the closest local election ever, the proposal passed by 27 votes, out of 25,149 votes cast. And 2005 was the year Clark County received full federal funding for an all-mail voting system. Likness' management skills helped the local office hang onto the old punch-card voting system until the federal money became available. Of course, it was all still tax dollars, but Likness helped save local taxpayers about $1 million in voting equipment costs.

Kimsey said a rumor several years ago -- ultimately untrue -- circulated on a Friday, something about Likness wanting to retire, "and it ruined my weekend. That was one of the worst days of my career." In response, Kimsey launched a plot, continually trying to coax Likness into buying a boat. "I knew if I could get him to buy a large boat, Tim would have to continue working," Kimsey recalled. That plan failed, but Likness stayed on the job.

We're glad the veteran elections supervisor will be on the job Tuesday, and through a special election in February that likely will involve school levies. And we're thankful for 31 years of outstanding service. Congratulations, Tim, on a job well done!