Election observer with gun spurs open-carry debate

Some workers later voice discomfort; county code mum in issue

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer

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This Tuesday’s primary may not have had many election surprises, but it did produce a first for four-term Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey: A certified election observer, whose job is to watch over those tallying votes, showed up wearing a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

Every day before leaving his house, Gerald “Rick” Halle says, he attaches his firearm to his hip. Monday, as the 48-year-old Vancouver man and certified election observer cruised over to the auditor’s office, it was no different.

“I can’t predict when I walk out the door what’s going to happen,” Halle said, likening it to putting on his seat belt before starting the car.

The county currently prohibits employees from carrying a firearm at work, but elected officials and the public are allowed to bring weapons into some county buildings.

Halle did nothing illegal and, in fact, nobody said a word to him. He fulfilled his role overseeing the votes being tallied and left.

But later, some election workers voiced discomfort. The county’s code doesn’t address whether election observers or temporary election workers should be barred or allowed to carry firearms.

“We’re going to discuss this with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and see what our options might be,” Kimsey said. “And until we have those discussions, I’m not going to speak to them.”

Lee Jensen, 67, of Battle Ground, was also serving as an election observer with Halle on Monday.

The two exchanged a few words. Jensen, a gun owner himself, felt it was not the right place to bring a gun.

“I’m not sure why anyone would feel it logical, necessary or appropriate to bring a gun into the ballot-counting area,” he said.

Earlier this year, county commissioners discussed changing the policy prohibiting employees from carrying weapons in county buildings. Following a workplace shooting at the Center for Community Health, in an office operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, commissioners discovered they were not allowed to carry a firearm in the workplace. State and federal law bans employees from carrying weapons at the courthouse, juvenile facilities and the community health campus.

Jensen said it’s time for a broader discussion, noting that Halle wasn’t “brandishing” the firearm.

“I can’t come down on him for the way he carried the gun; I just think it’s crazy he brought a gun to the counting office like that,” Jensen said.

The ballot-counting process, Jensen said, is done in a “calm, orderly demeanor,” mainly by women in their seventies.

“I think it’s safe to call it an interruption to the voting process at the least and intimidation at the worst,” he said of Halle’s decision.

Halle said he is conscious to go out of his way to avoid confrontations. He doesn’t believe the county could prohibit others from carrying firearms into a county building, and even if asked to remove his firearm, he said, “I would choose to exercise my right.”