WACO Member Spotlight: Brenda Chilton, Benton County Auditor
Recently Washington Association of County Officials checked in with Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton during a long and dynamic election season and turbulent year. In the year 2020, all county officials, including Auditors, faced unprecedented events. Washington county officials responded to these challenges in new and dynamic ways – overcoming large county and statewide issues. Through this Member Spotlight, we learn firsthand just what some of those successes have unveiled.
Brenda Chilton has been the Benton County Auditor since 2010. Prior to becoming Auditor, she was employed with the Auditor's Office for 11 years, the last five of those years as the Chief Deputy Auditor. Brenda served as President of the Washington State Association of County Auditors in 2014-15 and currently serves on its Board. She is a nationally certified Election Administrator through The Election Center’s Professional Education Program from Auburn University.
When asked what changed for Auditor Chilton and her staff in 2020, she responded “This year we had to learn to think creatively, particularly when it comes to running a countywide election.” Auditor Chilton went on to say that overcoming a county election in a pandemic was something she was proud her team overcame. “Safety has been priority one - for both our team, as well as our citizens” said Auditor Chilton “my team successfully propped up two offsite locations. This allowed our election workers to provide the key services to our voters, while keeping themselves and the voters safe.”
On November 16th, Benton County reported a total of 103,386 counted ballots and received a voter turnout rate of 82% which proves just how hard Auditor Chilton’s team worked. “A very successful Presidential Election cycle is the biggest success we will celebrate in 2020” said Auditor Chilton. She added “My team excelled at every point. This was my 6th presidential election, and it was by far the smoothest yet and had the highest turnout.”
The 2020 election was not the only occasion where Auditor Chilton brought creativity to her position. One common change that all county officials are experiencing is the adjustment to virtual meetings. Although there are some issues with this trend, Auditor Chilton has found a way to utilize this method of working.
Auditor Chilton stated “I think the most common element has been the use of virtual meeting platforms. Interestingly, there are aspects of it that we have found to be much more efficient and we will likely keep after the pandemic is over.” She went on to say that it was one of the most common resources she used in 2020.
Auditor Chilton explained that her office has always hired a lot of temporary help during a presidential election. However, this year she identified a myriad of tasks that she needed help with that could be done offsite through the hiring of a Virtual Assistant. This new employee was able to assist with social media, graphic design, and outreach. Auditor Chilton added “Once we had them on board, we were able to identify more areas they could help. We plan to continue to use them on an as-needed basis, especially as it is an obvious cost benefit.”
As challenging as it was, Auditor Chilton can mark 2020 as a success because of her creativity and forward thinking. In closing we asked Auditor Chilton what keeps her in public service, she simply responded “I love my job! I feel fortunate that my constituents have faith in the job I’ve done to date.”