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Weeks after election day, three statewide races within threshold for hand recount

Election worker Diana Kaczor sorts ballots from security envelopes at the King County Elections office Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Renton, Wash.
Elaine Thompson
Election worker Diana Kaczor sorts ballots from security envelopes at the King County Elections office Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Renton, Wash.

As part of his weekly debrief with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick, KNKX Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins discussed the state’s closest races that are still unresolved weeks after the Nov. 6 election.

Among them, three statehouse races have fallen within the margin for a manual recount: state Senate and House Pos. 1 races in the 42nd District, as well as the state Senate race in the 26th District. All of those have less than 150 votes separating the candidates and less than one fourth of one percent of all votes cast for both candidates – the so-called “double trigger” needed to spur a hand count.

In Whatcom County’s 42nd District Senate race, incumbent Sen. Doug Ericksen (R) has watched his lead shrink gradually, “hanging on by just a hair” Jenkins says. Now, Ericksen leads challenger and two-term Bellingham City Council member Pinky Vargas (D) by just 45 votes. In the district’s house race, two-term Rep. Luanne Van Werven (R) leads her challenger, Justin Boneau (D), by 80 votes.

Jenkins reported that the Whatcom County auditor said the office is still tallying the late-arrival ballots in a first count, as well as ballots under review by the canvassing board. The office has until Nov. 27 to certify the election at the county level.  

As for the Senate race in the 26th District, located on the Kitsap Peninsula, political newcomer Emily Randall (D) narrowly leads Marty McClendon (R) by 99 votes. The lead has flip-flopped between the two candidates as results have rolled out. 

In addition to the statewide nail-biters, there are two local races in machine-recount territory: Wahkiakum County commissioner and Spokane County assessor.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman says we’re likely to know the results of the close races by mid-December.

Jenkins said Washington hasn’t seen drama like Florida amid the recounts. “It’s been pretty quiet.”

Still, some have spoken up about Whatcom County ballots found in King County drop boxes. Jenkins noted that it’s not unusual for that to happen; for example, Whatcom County voters studying at the University of Washington in Seattle use their local drop boxes to return ballots.

“It’s not that uncommon to have that happen, but Republicans have flagged it,” Jenkins said. Both Whatcom and King counties have systems in place to deal with those ballots, he added.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.