Expect less drama in state recount


Herald Writer

The recount is coming home.

After watching besieged Florida election workers toil beneath television cameras, Snohomish County officials and county election managers throughout Washington on Monday began preparing for a recount of their own. This one is a double-check of more than 2 million ballots cast for the U.S. Senate and Secretary of State races.

Preparations had begun even before Secretary of State Ralph Munro officially ordered the recount Monday. Munro directed counties to begin by Friday and said he hoped the counties could have the results that day as well.

The recount was triggered when the differences between the top two vote-getters were smaller than half a percentage point. Maria Cantwell, the Democratic challenger for the U.S. Senate, held a slim 1,953-vote lead over incumbent Republican Slade Gorton in the initial count. Republican Sam Reed led Democrat Don Bonker by 10,489 in the race for Secretary of State.

But there is little sign of the drama that has accompanied Florida’s recounts.

Washington’s recount should not spark debates about dimpled ballots and voters’ intentions, Munro emphasized. No new ballots will be added during the recount and none will be thrown out — they’ll just be run through the machines again.

"No sign of any troubles, no sign of any problems. There is no Florida parallel here," said Ellis Conklin, press secretary for Cantwell’s campaign.

Conklin said he was confident Cantwell would remain the winner. She will probably begin preparing to fill some staff positions even before the recount is completed, he said.

Gorton campaign officials could not be reached for comment. When the initial results were announced, Gorton said he was "cautiously pessimistic" about the outcome.

Be prepared for some changes in the numbers, Snohomish County elections manager Scott Konopasek said. But he predicted the shifts wouldn’t be great enough to change the winner.

"The numbers will change, I guarantee you. But the outcome will stay the same," he said at a briefing for the press and election observers.

Vote counts could change if workers discover a batch of ballots they mistakenly thought had been counted during the initial run, said Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger, who also sits on the county canvassing board that certifies the results.

Some could also change as punch-card ballots are fed through the counting machines a second time, Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair said.

Island County uses the punch-card ballots immortalized by the disputes in Florida over hanging or dimpled chads — little bits of the ballot that weren’t fully punched out. Sometimes a second trip through the machine can dislodge loose chads, she said.

"Even in the state of Washington there will be a hanging chad, I guarantee you," Terwilliger said.

Snohomish County uses optical scanners that detect pen marks on a ballot.

Two state House races in the 47th District south of Seattle hinge on less than .3 percent of the vote, and face recounts by King County elections officials. Republican Jack Cairnes leads Democrat Debbie Jacobson, while Democrat Geoff Simpson is ahead of Republican Phil Fortunato. King County will handle those recounts.

Past recounts in Washington tend to affirm the initial tallies.

The most recent mandatory recount was in 1996 in the 3rd Congressional District. Republican Linda Smith initially led Democrat Brian Baird by 890 votes. The recount gave both a few more votes, and Smith’s margin of victory was 887.

Gorton is no stranger to the process. The last time Washington had a recount for a statewide office was 1968, when Gorton defeated Democrat John McCutcheon by 5,368 votes for attorney general.

Snohomish County election workers have already begun sorting the boxes of ballots and plan to begin hand counting the ballots toTday to ensure the total number of ballots is unchanged from the initial tallies. The results for individual races will then be counted by machine Thursday and completed that night or Friday, Konopasek said.

Island County officials plan to recount the ballots Wednesday and certify the recount results Friday, Sinclair said.

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