Snohomish County elections officials Monday discovered 224 ballots that were not counted in the Nov. 2 general election results.
The discovery came as election workers were in the midst of a recount for the state’s close gubernatorial election.
It’s uncertain how the votes will affect the race, in which Republican Dino Rossi last week finished statewide with a 261-vote lead over Democrat Christine Gregoire.
The ballots are from 33 precincts, and they ranged from as few as just one ballot to as many as 35 in the Fir Grove precinct near Snohomish. Twenty-four of the precincts are from Everett and the remainder are scattered around the county, Snohomish County election manager Carolyn Diepenbrock said Monday night.
“All the slips and the audit trail were there,” Auditor Bob Terwilliger said. “Evidently they just weren’t brought out of (secure cabinets) for the final run. I don’t know what happened.”
Because there’s generally just a handful of ballots from any given precinct, Terwilliger figures they were either absentees that trickled in or provisional ballots that needed checking.
Diepenbrock said she’s not sure either, but she speculates that somebody inadvertently stuck empty trays on top of the tray containing the 224 ballots.
“All the paperwork was there in preparation to be counted and (the ballots) were at the bottom of the tray,” Diepenbrock said.
Kelly Wright, a member of the state Democratic Committee, was in the counting office observing the recount when Terwilliger announced the discovery.
“I’m surprised, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility,” Wright said.
Vote counting is an imperfect process, and this find is all the more reason why recounts are necessary, Wright said.
“If it had not been for an automatic recount, those ballots would never have been counted,” he said. “We have a good election department here and this is indicative of what else could come up in the state.”
Evelyn Spencer, county Republican election and campaign director, also was observing the recount.
“I’m glad they found the ballots now instead of after everything was said and done,” Spencer said.
She doesn’t know what the discovery will mean as far as the governor’s race is concerned. Many of the ballots are from precincts that leaned toward Gregoire, she said. Some are from precincts that favored Rossi.
However, throughout the county, Rossi garnered nearly 6,500 more votes than Gregoire in the first count.
No matter how it plays out, Spencer doesn’t think these ballots alone will tilt the election away from Rossi.
The county canvassing board will meet at 1 p.m. today, and Terwilliger expects it to order him to count these ballots. His office will also verify that they were kept in a secure location and explain as well as possible what happened.
The recount of nearly 297,000 Snohomish County votes started Monday morning, and by 6 p.m. about two-thirds of them had been counted. Terwilliger believes the remainder will be tallied today by mid-afternoon.
Meanwhile In King County, a federal court judge said Monday he will hear arguments next week on a state Republican lawsuit saying that some ballots there should not be included in the recount.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez scheduled the hearing for Nov. 30, two days before the state is set to certify results of the statewide recount triggered by the close race.
The recount began in a handful of counties Saturday and is expected to wrap up Wednesday. As of Monday evening, 20 counties had reported recount results, giving Rossi an extra 15 votes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or email@example.com.