Derek Sanders Declares Victory in Thurston County Sheriff's Race, Starts Preparing for Role


Deputy Derek Sanders declared victory over incumbent John Snaza in the Thurston County Sheriff race as his lead solidified as ballot tallies were wrapping up.

On Wednesday, results indicated Sanders earned 55.3% (64,826) of the vote while Snaza claimed 44.2% (51,839) of the vote. With turnout at 64.4%, there were about 600 ballots left to be counted, according to the Thurston County Auditor's Office, not nearly enough to turn the tide in Snaza's favor..

Sanders declared victory last week in social media posts. On Monday, he issued a statement thanking voters.

"I am honored by the trust the voters of Thurston County have placed in me as their next Sheriff," Sanders said. "The celebration was brief, however, as many pressing issues must be urgently addressed."

Sanders said he plans to introduce his new command staff to the public in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, he has been meeting with them to develop "strategic goals." He said he handpicked staff who he believes demonstrate selfless leadership.

"The residents of Thurston County and employees in the TCSO will be in good hands with these individuals in place," Sanders said.

Sanders also thanked Snaza for his military and law enforcement service. Snaza has been Sheriff since 2011 and has 30 years of law enforcement experience. He won reelection in 2014 and 2018 without facing any challengers.

"I wish Sheriff Snaza nothing but the best in his future endeavors, and he will always be a respected and welcomed visitor to our office moving forward," Sanders said.

While Sanders has publicly declared victory, Snaza's campaign has remained silent on social media since election day. Snaza did not respond to requests for comment from The Olympian.

When reached for comment, Sanders said Snaza had not contacted him about the election results as of Wednesday afternoon. He said he hoped he could still work with him to ensure an orderly transition.

"I would love to, but obviously as his subordinate, I don't get to choose that," Sanders said. "No one has officially sat down in their capacity to really talk with me about what they plan on doing."

Sanders said he foresees most deputies and staff choosing to stay when he takes over. "We anticipated retirements, but so far they have told us they are not retiring," Sanders said.

He said he expected members of Snaza's command staff to return to their previous service positions.

In his statement, Sanders' appreciation also extended to those who assisted his campaign, including donors, volunteers, elected officials, retired law enforcement and first responders. He called their passion and engagement "refreshing."

At just 28, Sanders represents a new generation of leadership in the Sheriff's Office. During the campaign, he said his life experience would bring a fresh perspective to the office.

Sanders often criticized his boss's leadership and even accused him of investigating him for political gain — a claim Snaza denied. He also promised to improve transparency and accountability as well as recruiting and retention efforts.

Among other ideas, Sanders suggested creating domestic violence and homelessness teams, setting up a community advisory board, and even empowering armed veterans to protect schools.

Meanwhile, Snaza defended his record and emphasized his three decades of law enforcement experience. He also talked up recent efforts to improve the county jail and acquire body cameras for deputies.

Looking ahead, Sanders said he plans to bring his campaign work ethic to the Sheriff Office.

"I decided early on in this campaign that I would not be outworked regardless of the low chance of victory," Sanders said. "There is no reason for that mentality to change now."

Thurston County will certify election results Tuesday, Nov. 29. The Secretary of State has until Dec. 8 to certify returns.