Election returns posted Wednesday evening show three key races in the 42nd Legislative District remain too close to call, as Democratic challengers were seeking to unseat Republican incumbents in traditionally conservative northern Whatcom County.
Only a few hundred votes separated the Republican and Democratic candidates after the second round of counting Wednesday in Washington’s vote-by-mail election.
Two-term state Sen. Doug Ericksen, a Republican, held his slim lead over Bellingham City Councilwoman Pinky Vargas, a Democrat, by a margin of 50.09 percent to 49.91 percent — nearly a dead heat out of 69,118 votes cast.
Only 122 votes separated the two candidates after two days of counting as Vargas closed a 451-vote gap from Tuesday.
Western Washington University economics professor Sharon Shewmake, a Democrat, expanded her narrow lead over four-term Republican state Rep. Vincent Buys, by a margin of 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent.
Only 810 votes separated the two.
Two-term state Rep. Luanne Van Werven held her slight lead over Democratic challenger Justin Boneau of Bellingham by a margin of 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent.
Only 261 ballots separated them.
Both the Ericksen-Vargas race and the Van Werven-Boneau race remain within the margin for a mandatory recount, according to state law.
According to the Washington Secretary of State’s Office, a machine recount is required when fewer than 2,000 votes separate the candidates and the winning margin is less than one-half of 1 percent of the votes cast for both candidates.
A manual recount is required when the difference is fewer than 150 votes and the difference is less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the votes cast for both candidates.
Candidates can request a recount, but they must pay for it out of pocket.
Democrats campaigned heavily this election season across the 42nd District, which includes neighborhoods of north Bellingham and rural Whatcom County generally north of Lake Whatcom.
It’s been represented in Olympia by all Republicans since Buys ousted Democratic Rep. Kelli Linville in the 2010 midterms.
But in the Aug. 7 primary this year, total Democratic votes exceeded those for Ericksen, Van Werven and Buys — suggesting that the district could be vulnerable.
Control of the state Legislature could be at stake, with the Democrats holding a 50-48 majority in the House and a 25-24 lead in the Senate.
In another race with countywide interest, Carol Frazey was leading Mike Peetoom, by 59 percent to 41 percent, in the non-partisan race for a one-year at-large seat on the Whatcom County Council.
Peetoom, who was backed by Republicans, said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon that he was waiting for Wednesday’s results before placing a concession call to Frazey.
Nevertheless, he praised her for running a solid, positive campaign that avoided personal attacks.
“My first race out, as a conservative in a liberal county, to get 35,0000 votes — that’s not bad,” Peetoom said.
Frazey said in an interview Tuesday night that backing from the Democrats and a robust field effort made the difference.
“We had a strong volunteer team and strong Democratic support,” she said. “I’m excited to be representing all of Whatcom County.”
A total of 105,013 votes had been counted when the second round of results were posted Wednesday evening, according to the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office.
Wednesday’s count included ballots that voters placed in ballot drop boxes between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday, and those that arrived by mail Wednesday, Auditor Debbie Adelstein said.
“A lot of people waited till the last minute,” Adelstein said in an interview Wednesday. ”We had probably 20-25 people in the lobby all day. We’ve never had that happen here ever. There was big interest in turning out.”
There were anecdotal reports of voters waiting in line to deliver ballots at drop boxes throughout the county as the 8 p.m. deadline approached Tuesday.
A new count is scheduled Thursday afternoon, including ballots that arrive by mail with a postmark of 8 p.m. election day.
Some 108,204 ballots had been returned from among 143,112 registered voters, an astounding number for a midterm election, Adelstein said.
Unofficial turnout was 73 percent, which is high for a midterm election, Adelstein said.
About 3,000 ballots remained to be counted in the Auditor’s Office, according to the auditor’s website.
In other state, federal and local races:
▪ Bellingham voters approved Proposition 2018-5, a property tax levy to fund low-income housing, by 67 percent to 33 percent.
▪ U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell defeated her Republican challenger Susan Hutchison by 59 percent to 41 percent.
▪ U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene defeated her GOP challenger Jeffrey Beeler by 59 percent to 41 percent in the 1st District U.S. House race, which covers parts of Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish and King counties.
▪ U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen defeated Libertarian Party candidate Brian Luke by 72 percent to 28 percent in the 2nd District congressional race, which covers San Juan and Island counties and parts of Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.
▪ Democrat Debra Lekanoff defeated Republican Michael Petrish by 71 percent to 29 percent for one of two House seats in the 40th Legislative District, which covers San Juan County and parts of Whatcom and Skagit counties.
▪ Democratic Rep. Jeff Morris was unopposed for the other 40th District House seat.