Longtime Jefferson County elections officials retires amid accolades
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Elections Supervisor Karen Cartmel holds a plaque depicting the Jefferson County Courthouse at her retirement party. —Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin’s first encounter with Karen Cartmel wasn’t a pleasant one.

Austin, who was running for his first term in 2006 was electioneering on the courthouse steps when Cartmel, the longtime elections supervisor who is retiring at the end of 2013, told him that he needed to move immediately.

Unbeknown to Austin, a special election was in progress and political activity within 300 feet of a polling place was forbidden.

“When she told me that I said, ‘Are you kidding?’” Austin recalled at a retirement ceremony for Cartmel on Friday.

“And she said, ‘No, I am not.’”

“What that speaks to is the fierce integrity of what she does,” said County Administrator Philip Morley.

“For many years she has been an advocate for democracy and free elections.”

Cartmel, 57, is retiring from the office in which she began working just out of high school, putting in 36 years, all but five of these as the county’s top elections authority.

About 30 people — friends, family, colleagues and admirers — took over a conference room in the Jefferson County Courthouse in Port Townsend to express admiration for Cartmel and present her with tokens to recognize her service.

Tokens included a ceremonial hockey puck — a tradition for retiring staff — and a glass plaque with a relief image of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Austin, the only commissioner present, has long buried the hatchet from his initial contentious meeting with Cartmel.

“The entire county government depends on Karen,” he said.

“No one is an elected official unless elections take place and are certified by Karen, and at any moment she could say ‘this isn’t a legitimate election and none of the elected officials should be here.’”

Washington State Elections Director Lori Augino made the trip to Olympia to present Cartmel with a certificate of appreciation, saying that longtime election officials are a special breed.

“You don’t go to school to be an election official, and the people who are really, really good at this stay for a long time,” said Augino, who worked for Pierce County Auditor Kim Wyman before her election as Secretary of State in 2012.

“We eat elections, we breathe elections, we sleep elections and we dream of elections.

“And if you cut us, we bleed elections.”

Cartmel decided several years ago that she would retire early and timed the action to coincide with the expected retirement of Auditor Donna Eldridge, who has said she will not run again when her current term — her fifth — expires in December 2014.

Cartmel considered retiring last year but decided to stay on “to add a bit more to my pension” and chose to not wait until 2015 “because I didn’t want to have to train another auditor.”

Cartmel took a year to train her successor, Elections Coordinator Betty Johnson, who will now take over the top elections job.

Her retirement coincides with that of County Assessor Jack Westerman, who is leaving office one year shy of the end of his term and who will be replaced on an interim basis by Jeff Chapman.

Westerman spoke of his admiration for Cartmel, saying the close relationship between an auditor and an assesor is unique.

“The Department of Revenue Property Tax Division is enamored by the fact that our assessor’s office and our auditor’s office correspond on the ballots when they first come in for language and the levy rates,” he said.

“Nobody else does this and the only reason I’ve been able to do this through the years is because we’ve had auditors who have allowed me to communicate with Karen, the elections supervisor.

“So we haven’t had hardly any screw ups.”

Westerman said that he was glad that he and Cartmel were retiring simultaneously “because it means that I don’t have to work with anybody else.”

Cartmel’s last official day is Dec. 31, but she is taking vacation time until then.

She plans a trip to Hawaii after the first of the year and will spend time with her family during retirement.

“My 36-year career has been very rewarding,” she wrote on her Facebook page on Friday.

“Now it’s time to open the door to a brand new chapter in life.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 21. 2013 6:37PM
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