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New Mason County auditor rejects 'election denier' label, pledges big changes for office

The newly-elected auditor is forging ahead with changes in his elections office.

MASON COUNTY, Wash — The newly-elected auditor of Mason County – whom some have called an “election denier” – is forging ahead with changes in his elections office after campaigning for months on claims that elections are not transparent or trustworthy.  

“(I want) to return the elections and other elements that we can to the people of Mason County.  That’s my passion,” Steve Duenkel said in his first interview with KING 5.

Duenkel is implementing an elections system in which citizen volunteers will stand watch over the entire ballot process. Not only will they observe the processes at the Mason County’s Elections Office, but Duenkel is also working to get volunteers access to the Everett manufacturer that prints the ballots and the US Post Office where ballots are sorted and mailed.  

“Where I have concerns is at the points where we lose what I call a chain of custody of the ballot,” said Duenkel.

Duenkel is also analyzing the county’s ballot counting machine, “just to make sure that there’s not been any changes in the coding,” the signature matching process used to verify voter ID and adding cameras that will monitor the 10 ballot boxes countywide.  

Duenkel, a 61-year-old retired Boeing executive, was a first-time Republican candidate who narrowly defeated Democrat Paddy McGuire, with two decades of elections experience, in November.  

Duenkel’ s reforms address many of the “stolen election” claims that have circulated among Republicans since Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.   

Duenkel rejects the label “election denier.” He said, “it’s a term that is intended to be derogatory or demeaning.” However, he would not say if he believes Trump won the popular vote.  

“I’m focusing on what’s happening here in Mason County,” Duenkel said. 

Duenkel’s office will also offer full cooperation to the “Voter Research Project (VRP),” a grassroots effort that sends citizens door-to-door to uncover improperly registered voters. Supporters say it’s an effort to clean up the voter rolls and to try to uncover irregularities that could impact elections.  

However, a KING 5 Investigation last September revealed that the VRP’s findings during canvassing in 2021 and 2022 were mostly inaccurate or already known to Mason County Elections officials. The group claimed to have uncovered 239 “voter anomalies.”  

For instance, a news crew determined that VRP’s canvassers visited the wrong addresses when they claimed in the report that two vacant lots were listed as residences where six registered voters lived.  

Though Duenkel did not respond to KING 5’s requests for interviews in September, he more recently answered questions about the inaccuracies in the report. 

“They’re not trained investigators. They’re just concerned citizens,” Duenkel said, explaining that the volunteers simply went where their GPS told them to go and did not investigate further.  

KING 5 did not find a single example of voter fraud after following up on VRP’s report.  

“Well, that wasn't the purpose of the report. And, so, you're right, the report didn't point out specific instances of fraud. The report brought up some questions that needed some follow up,” said Duenkel. 

However, it appears that Duenkel’s “election integrity” reforms are to fix a problem that there is no evidence even exists in Mason County. 

“Just because we haven’t seen it doesn’t mean that the potential for problems isn’t there,” Duenkel said. 

The new auditor expects to have several new security measures in place by the next election. 

The Fraud Crusade: A KING 5 Investigators Special

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