The second-place contest between county commissioner candidates Al Smith and Keith Olson is a dead heat heading into today’s expected primary election certification. Officials say a recount to decide who will face Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines in November is likely.
Signature verification forms may be key to deciding who will oppose Raines in the 3rd District race, because less than 70 signature challenges remain outstanding, Election Supervisor Katy Moore said Monday. A recount, if mandated by state law, would be held Friday, she said.
The race for second place is a virtual dead heat, with Republican Olson holding a whisper-thin lead of seven votes over Democrat Smith as of the latest count released last week. Raines, running with no party preference, has a substantial lead.
After election day, 254 ballots were challenged, mainly for signature reasons. Of those, 110 signatures affected the commissioner race.
Only voters registered in District 3 could vote in the primary for the commission’s western-most seat. Voters countywide will decide the commissioner race in November.
Of the challegned ballots, most were challenged either because the signature is missing, illegible or does not match the one on file, Moore said. Only four ballots were challenged for reasons such as there was no ballot inside the envelope, a ballot from another county was included or the ballot was postmarked after the election date.
Ballots are challenged for the signature issues on the oath on the outer envelope. The ballot, which is anonymous, is tucked inside in another envelope. Those voters are sent a signature verification form, while the inner ballots are not opened and stored until the voter can return the form. No votes can be changed or seen.
When a verified signature is received, the database is amended and the vote inside can then be put in the batch to be counted. Moore emphasized the vote isn’t known because they are not opened until the signature verification is returned.
Any citizen may request a list of the ballots sent to registered voters in a report called a “match back,” she said. That report must be requested and an oath must be signed swearing not to try to sell or solicit anything from a person on the list. No phone numbers are included on the list provided by the Auditor’s Office, she said.
The list shows votes that are challenged, undeliverable or good. Again, information about how they voted is not known or revealed, she said. The report also does not detail why a vote was challenged, she said.
The commissioner candidates and their representatives as well as several other entities, such as political parties, requested the match back reports, she said. The procedure is routine and very common in any election, she added. In Excel format sent by email, the match back report costs $6, she said.
It is very likely the contest for second place in the commissioner’s race will trigger a recount, either manual or machine, even after late arriving votes and cleared-up challenges are counted, Moore said. Some 30 more ballots have arrived since the last updated count and more may come in Monday, she said.
All the election results will be certified Tuesday, even if a manual or machine recount is mandated in the commissioner’s race.
The Election Canvassing Board will meet today at 10:30 a.m. to review any outstanding issues. The remaining ballots will be counted. The board will reconvene later today to certify election results and to determine whether a manual or machine recount is needed. If so, the recount will be held on Friday at 9 a.m. at the election building at 121 W. Spruce St. in Montesano. Moore hopes they will be able to certify the recount that same day.
The canvassing board is normally made up of the auditor, the prosecutor and a county commissioner, often the commission’s president.
The configuration of the board will be unusual this year because Auditor Vern Spatz is on the ballot, so Chief Deputy Auditor Melinda Raihl will represent the office on the board. Interim Prosecutor Gerald Fuller will represent the Prosecutor’s Office and District 1 Commissioner Wes Cormier will serve instead of Commission President Frank Gordon, who recused himself because he has taken a position in the race, Moore said.
Gordon has made no secret he supports Smith and opposes Raines.
The recount will either be manual or machine depending on the new results, Moore said.
A mandatory recount occurs when the votes for offices fall within the statutory range. For a machine recount, the difference must be less than 2,000 votes and less than half of one percent, she said. For a manual recount, the difference must be less than 150 votes and a quarter of one percent, she said.
The public and the candidates are allowed to watch all of the process, from canvassing board meetings to counts and recounts, she said.