Three closely watched races in the 42nd Legislative District of northern Whatcom County remained tight Thursday, with little change after a third day of ballot counting in Washington state’s vote-by-mail election.
A possibility of recounts still loomed in races for the district’s state Senate and two House seats.
Updated results were released at 4:18 p.m. Thursday by the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office, which manages local elections.
Both the state Senate race between Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen and Bellingham City Councilwoman Pinky Vargas, and the state House race between Republican Rep. Luanne Van Werven and challenger Justin Boneau, remain within the margin for a mandatory recount.
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 if the race is outside those margins, but they must pay for it out of pocket.
Required recounts are paid for by the state.
Republicans have held the conservative 42nd, but Democratic newcomer Sharon Shewmake was still leading her opponent Thursday, and Republicans held uncharacteristically narrow margins in the other two races.
Ericksen remained ahead of Vargas on Thursday by 50.15 percent to 49.85 percent.
Only 208 votes separated the candidates out of 71,458 votes counted.
Neither Ericksen or Vargas were available for comment Thursday.
Shewmake, a Western Washington University economics professor, kept a narrow lead over four-term Republican state Rep. Vincent Buys, by a margin of 50.53 percent to 49.47 percent.
Only 760 votes separated the two out of 71,231 votes counted.
“The numbers are in the right direction — I feel pretty good,” Shewmake said. “This year was about getting people to vote.”
Buys wasn’t available for comment Thursday.
Van Werven slightly expanded her lead over Democratic challenger Justin Boneau of Bellingham by a margin of 50.21 percent to 49.79 percent.
Only 305 ballots separated the candidates.
Van Werven said Thursday afternoon that she had been expecting to hold or expand her lead.
To explain the close race in a generally conservative area, Van Werven pointed out that the 42 nd District gained about 4,500 new voters over the past two years, and that national trends in politics were influencing Whatcom County races.
“Independent voters in suburban areas are swinging to the Democrats,” she said. “We did lose ground yesterday but I expect that we should gain ground today.”
Boneau said Thursday morning that he was waiting to see the results of Thursday’s counting.
“It’s evident that the 42nd wants a change in leadership,” Boneau said. “We’ll see where we end up when the ballots are counted.”
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 three 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.
Turnout was high, especially for a midterm election, with 109,071 voters returning ballots out of a total 143,112 registered voters by 4:30 p.m. Thursday — for a turnout rate of 76 percent.
Some 108,595 ballots had been counted, the Auditor’s Office said at its website, and 475 ballots remained to be counted in the office.
It was unknown how many valid ballots would arrive by mail Friday.