Seeking a vote of confidence

Times Staff Writer

Ask a Republican in Washington state about Dean C. Logan, Los Angeles County’s interim elections chief, and this might be the answer: “I’m really shocked that anyone would consider hiring Dean Logan to run an elections department,” former state party leader Chris Vance said.

Ask a Democrat there, and the answer might be like this: “He was marvelous. I have nothing but high praise for Dean,” King County Executive Ron Sims said.

The man at the heart of Los Angeles County’s recent primary election fracas has been at the epicenter of controversy before. Nearly four years ago, his efforts changed the outcome of a hotly contested gubernatorial contest, polarizing Washington state and turning “Logan” into a household name.


Last month, Logan, L.A. County’s interim registrar-recorder/county clerk, was in the news once again after nearly 50,000 decline-to-state voters failed to mark an additional bubble on their ballots indicating that they intended to vote in the Democratic or American Independent party primaries during the Feb. 5 elections.

Those ballots, which had been used in several previous elections, were not initially counted, and Logan came under a barrage of criticism from activists who claimed he ignored their calls to review every ballot.

Amid calls for his resignation, county supervisors told Logan to devise a way to count the disputed votes. He did so, and supervisors have stood by him since then, even praising his work. His new charge is to design a better ballot for the June election.

Although most would shy away from such public controversies, Logan, 40, who earns $175,826 a year, steadfastly maintains his love for the elections process and his loyalty to the cause and those who work under him.

An early start

Logan was first attracted to the bureaucratic inner workings of democracy at age 10, when his family volunteered to help campaign for a friend vying for an elected seat in his native Kitsap County, in northwestern Washington state. He stayed involved with local government through high school and eventually was offered a part-time job at the local elections office and ran with it.

Logan’s resume includes county clerk of Kitsap County, an elected position, as well as stints for the Washington secretary of state’s office. He also worked for a time as a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO.

He came from a family with no history of attending college and calls his lack of a degree a success story. “Both employers and the public have come to the conclusion that I have the skills and ability to do the job,” he said.

Then came the job in 2003 as head of the King County election office -- which includes Seattle -- and the 2004 election, for which he’s most remembered.

“It might be the last thing I think about before I die,” said Vance, the former state Republican Party chairman who was a King County councilman as well as a state legislator. “It was unbelievably bitter and all-consuming for all of us. It was one of the biggest things that has ever happened in my professional life.”

When polls closed that November night, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi emerged with a 261-vote lead over his Democratic opponent, Christine Gregoire, triggering an automatic recount. For the first time in two decades, Washington Republicans could taste the governorship.

Enter Logan, soft-spoken, average height and build -- a bureaucrat with an endless vocabulary of techno-babble discernible only to elections aficionados. In his position, he oversaw about a third of the state’s nearly 4 million voters.

In the days after the election, Logan’s office discovered that workers had counted nearly 660 provisional ballots without verifying their authenticity and had overlooked about 100 absentee ballots until it was too late to count them. Felons who were ineligible to vote were on the voter rolls, and ballots were cast in the name of dead people.

Gregoire ultimately won by 129 votes out of 2.8 million ballots cast.

“There are people over there that have vilified me over this,” Logan said. “They’re convinced I stole the election from them.”

Logan hung on for two more years, as calls for his resignation mounted.

Eventually, the criticisms became too loud to ignore, Logan said, and Los Angeles’ offer became impossible to turn down. He resigned in 2006 to become deputy to L.A. County Registrar-Recorder Conny McCormack.

“It became personal,” he said. “That became a distraction. I felt my moving on would enable others to move on.”

New criticism

Less than two years after arriving in Los Angeles, Logan, who was by then running the department as interim registrar after McCormack’s retirement, faced outcries again, this time over the confusing ballots, which had been designed by McCormack.

“This is a person who doesn’t have the critical thinking to do this job,” election activist Michael Jay said about Logan. “This is a pattern of malfeasance and a pattern of incompetence. If I was a supervisor, I would fire this guy right now.”

Immediately after the election, Rick Jacobs, chairman of the grass-roots advocacy group Courage Campaign, said, “Based on how he has handled this election, I would have some very serious questions about whether he’s the right guy to go forward.”

But Logan eventually validated 80% of the disputed ballots, silencing some of his critics: “I want to thank Mr. Logan for taking a very difficult situation and doing everything that, really, he could do, or I think anybody could do, to restore public confidence and know that L.A. County cares about people voting,” Jacobs, who was chairman of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign in California, told supervisors at their Feb. 26 meeting.

Still, a determined group of election activists have insisted the supervisors not give Logan the job permanently. They say his lack of a college degree, coupled with the controversy in Washington, makes Logan a poor choice to safeguard Los Angeles’ elections.

“He’s no way in the world the most-qualified person in the country,” said Judy Alter, director of Protect California Ballots.

Logan said that this time around, the criticism has been easier to handle.

“These things are going to continue to happen,” he said. “You want people who have been through that fire but who didn’t walk away in the middle of that fire.”

McCormack, who said she hired Logan intending for him to one day replace her, said she didn’t want someone who hadn’t experienced scrutiny. “You don’t want him to be tested for the first time here,” she said. “You don’t get where he’s been at such a young age without being exceptional.”