House may split again

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

Voters in Washington and across the nation were either incredibly indecisive or bewilderingly balanced.

The split electorate has left races up in the air from state legislator to U.S. senator to president. And after Friday’s count of nearly 100,000 ballots in Washington, the state House of Representatives appears to be split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

If the numbers hold up, this will be a record-breaking year for tied legislative chambers across the United States. There are still about 60,000 ballots left to count in this state next week.

Over the past two years, the Washington House was the only evenly split chamber in the country. Tied chambers aren’t unusual — there’s been at least one somewhere in the country every year since 1984 — but they’re also not common. The most in any election year until now has been three, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This year, it looks like the Washington House will join the tied ranks with Senate chambers in Arizona, Maine and South Carolina.

Not only are tied chambers on the rise, but there’s more political balance than ever before. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that Republicans control both chambers in 17 state legislatures, Democrats in 16, and 16 legislatures are shared by the parties. Nebraska only has one legislative chamber, which is nonpartisan.

By Friday’s count in Washington, the Democrats still had a one-seat lead in the Senate.

Before Friday, the Democrats were ahead by two seats in the House, 50-48, thanks to two King County Democratic House candidates who held slim leads.

But Republican incumbent Jack Cairnes, who had been behind Democrat Debbie Jacobson by 108 votes, is now ahead of her by 124 votes for a seat in the 47th Legislative District, southeast of Renton.

And Republicans could even take control if the second close race changes. In the 47th District’s other House spot, Republican incumbent Phil Fortunato narrowed the gap behind Democrat Geoff Simpson to 153 votes.

The Cairnes race is so close it could require a hand recount by the time all’s said and done on Wednesday. In Washington, a hand recount is required if the difference between two candidates is one-quarter of 1 percent and less than 150 votes.

Snohomish County election workers counted about 10,000 ballots Friday, but no results changed.

The counties have to turn in their results to the state on Wednesday. Then the Secretary of State’s Office has until Dec. 7 to ask for recounts and do a final certification of the results.

"We go over everything and make sure there’s no questions that arise from what they have on their reports," said Greg Nordlund of the Secretary of State’s Office.

The House Republicans plan to vote on their caucus leadership today,1 although it will still be up in the air whether their leader will be called speaker, co-speaker or minority leader.

While the House’s tie of the past two years was difficult and created a lot of deadlock, Rep. Renee Radcliff, R-Mukilteo, said she doesn’t think hard feelings remain.

"If nothing else, we have a little experience with it and we’ll make it work," Radcliff said. "It’s going to be a tough budget year. We’re still experiencing the ramifications of I-695, and now with all the new initiatives, it’s not going to be easy."

Some hard feelings likely will remain after this year’s "unusually vicious" election season, Radcliff said, "but we’ll get over it."

The campaigning was brutal because both parties were trying so hard to break the tie, and Radcliff called it "the ultimate irony" that all the efforts may not have paid off.

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