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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County can count auditor votes

Judge denies injunction sought by candidate Brett Simpson to block election results, agrees ballots are proper

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 29, 2022, 4:39pm

Clark County auditor candidate Brett Simpson was denied a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the county from counting or reporting any votes cast in his race against Auditor Greg Kimsey. Superior Court Judge Derek Vanderwood denied Simpson’s request at a Friday hearing.

Simpson filed suit against Kimsey, Elections Supervisor Cathie Garber and Clark County on July 21, claiming the elections office mailed incorrect primary ballots to more than 300,000 voters throughout Clark County when it included nonpartisan races with only one or two candidates.

Simpson requested a preliminary injunction to bar the elections office from “tabulating, recording, counting, retaining records thereof or publishing, distributing, communicating, or otherwise disclosing the results” for the auditor’s race in the Aug. 2 primary.

According to court records, Simpson claimed his race and others should not have been listed on the primary ballot because state law “prohibits primary elections for nonpartisan offices where there are two or fewer candidates.”

In an earlier interview, Kimsey said a total of five races were included on the ballot that had two or fewer candidates; all were county offices, such as treasurer, clerk, auditor, etc. He said they were included for good reason.

“In November 2021, Clark County voters approved an amendment to the county charter that made the offices of council member, assessor, auditor, clerk, sheriff, treasurer and prosecuting attorney nonpartisan and requiring that ‘Elections for the offices shall be conducted in the manner provided for partisan local elections under state law.’ Under state law, candidates for partisan local offices appear on the primary ballot whether there is one candidate or more than one candidate,” Kimsey said.

Simpson disagreed. In his suit, he said “Kimsey’s reliance on conflicting language in Clark County Home Charter Section 6.2 is inapt because the charter, in this respect, whether by mistake or oversight, nonetheless directly conflicts with (state law).”

But Vanderwood agreed with Kimsey’s interpretation and said the elections office was following the process outlined in the county’s charter.

“He ruled the Home Rule Charter has plain language and is not in conflict with state law,” Kimsey said after the hearing.

In his lawsuit, Simpson said the amendments put to voters by the charter review commission left the county charter with an “irreconcilable conundrum because treating nonpartisan races as partisan as the revised charter indicates directly conflicts with (state law).”

Simpson also said it was a conundrum that Kimsey, who has been the county auditor for more than 20 years, “should have easily identified and rectified.”

“I think it was a surprise to us that (Judge Vanderwood) is effectively saying that the Home Rule Charter can override state law for our local county elections,” Simpson said. “I think that’s a positive thing. I like that local governments have more control over their processes.”

While he could appeal the Superior Court ruling, Simpson said he had not yet decided on his next step in the lawsuit.

“I think it’s important to clarify. If it is as was ruled today then that’s a pretty big shift in dynamics considering the means and methods of elections have always been a state-level thing,” he said.

Kimsey said Vanderwood also ruled Simpson was not harmed by the actions the auditor’s office took when preparing and mailing the primary ballots.

“That’s the key thing, the plaintiff’s not harmed,” Kimsey said.