OLYMPIA — The bad news is, there is going to be a recount in Washington state.
The good news is, we’re not Florida.
Secretary of State Ralph Munro said he plans on Monday to order a recount in the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Maria Cantwell and Republican Sen. Slade Gorton. The close races for secretary of state and two state House seats in the 47th District will also require recounts.
The recount should take about a week, said state elections director Gary McIntosh. County canvassing boards will administer the recount, which simply entails running the ballots through the counting machines again.
Washington’s recount won’t be like the one in Florida, where debates are raging about dangling chads and dimpled ballots. No new ballots will be added during the recount and none will be thrown out — they’ll just be counted again, Munro emphasized.
"We do a preinspection of ballots," he said. "We don’t have hanging chad or anything. That was taken care of before the count."
State law requires a machine recount in any race where the margin of victory is less than half of 1 percent of the votes cast.
Cantwell and Gorton aren’t the only ones on the borderline. Republican Sam Reed won the race for secretary of state against Democrat Don Bonker by .46 percent of the vote. (Munro is retiring this year after 20 years in office.)
And both state House races in the 47th District hinged on less than .3 percent of the vote, so Republican Jack Cairnes and Democrat Geoff Simpson will have to wait for recount results before they can safely say they’ve won their respective seats.
Munro emphasized that past recounts have affirmed, not reversed, initial vote tallies.
The most recent mandatory recount was in 1996, in the 3rd Congressional District. Republican Linda Smith initially beat Democrat Brian Baird by 890 votes. The recount gave both a few more votes, and Smith’s margin of victory was 887.
The recount for the Cantwell-Gorton race would be the first recount for a statewide office since 1968, when Gorton defeated Democrat John McCutcheon by 5,368 votes in the race for attorney general.
The recounts have to be finished by Dec. 7, the date by which state law says the secretary of state must certify the election results.
A hand recount would be mandatory when the difference is less than 150 votes in races with more than 60,000 votes. In races with fewer than 60,000 total votes, a hand recount is triggered by a margin of less than a quarter of 1 percent.
If a hand recount is needed or requested, Munro said the counties may be pushing the deadline.
"I don’t want to get into what-ifs," Munro said.
Candidates and parties can call for additional recounts, although state law prohibits counting the ballots more than twice. Whoever requests the recount must pay for it, at five cents a ballot. However, if the recount reverses the results — which hasn’t happened in recent memory — they don’t have to pay.
Overall, Munro said, he expects a more orderly recount process than the one in the Sunshine State.
"It’s not very exciting," he said Wednesday. "It’s kind of like watching grass grow."
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