It could be a week or more before some Bellingham and Whatcom County residents know the results of close elections to decide who will represent them next year in Olympia, and the race could be decided by a few voters with scribbly handwriting.
About 500 ballots remain to be counted — most of them from voters whose signatures don’t match those on file with the county, Auditor Debbie Adelstein said.
“There’s still those in play and any overseas voters will have to get theirs in. It’s a moving target till then,” Adelstein said in an interview Tuesday.
As it stands, Democratic challenger Sharon Shewmake appears to have defeated four-term state Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, for one of two state House seats in the historically conservative 42nd District. It encompasses northern Bellingham and rural Whatcom County.
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In the other House race, Rep. Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden, leads Democratic challenger Justin Boneau by 50.07 percent to 49.93 percent — within the margin of a required hand recount.
Only 95 votes separate them out of 72,115 votes cast.
In the district’s state Senate race, two-term Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, remains ahead of his Democratic challenger, Bellingham City Councilwoman Pinky Vargas, by 50.04 percent to 49.96 percent.
Just 58 votes separate them out of 72,024 votes cast — also within the margin for a required hand recount.
But Shewmake, whose 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent lead over Buys is outside the margin for a required recount, looks like an upset winner in the last count released Wednesday afternoon.
A new ballot count is possible Monday, said Chief Deputy Auditor Diana Bradrick at Friday’s meeting of the county Canvassing Board.
She said that fewer than 50 valid ballots remained Friday, and elections officials were reluctant to post the results because of fears that a process of elimination could indicate how someone voted.
Voter rolls are public record.
On Friday, the Canvassing Board rejected the ballots of 435 voters whose ballots have been challenged by Whatcom County elections workers trained in signature verification techniques.
Verifying a challenged signature is called “curing” the ballot, Adelstein said.
Those voters have until 4:30 pm. Nov. 26, the day before the election is certified, to persuade officials that their ballot should be counted.
“If they’re not ‘cured,’ they’re rejected,” Bradrick said.
After that, hand-tabulated recounts could start if the two 42nd District races remain too close to call, Adelstein said.
All voters whose signatures have been challenged should have been notified by mail and by phone, Bradrick said.
In the meantime, representatives of both the Republican and Democratic parties have volunteers approaching voters in the 42nd District whose ballots have been challenged because the signature on the ballot doesn’t match the one on file with the county Auditors Office.
“We’re doing the same thing as the Democrats,” said Terry Cox, chair of the Whatcom Republicans, in an interview Friday.
“We have people in the field trying to cure ballots. We’re in a situation here where every vote counts,” Cox said.
It’s standard practice in an effort to get every vote counted — especially in a close race — but it’s a gamble because Washington state voters don’t register by party, so Republicans could be getting Democratic votes “cured” and vice versa, Adelstein said.
“They don’t necessarily know if they’re approaching someone who might be the other party. It’s kind of a Catch-22,” she said.
Some 110,057 votes had been counted through Friday, for a turnout of 77 percent — a rate closer to a presidential election than for a midterm race, Bradrick said.
Countywide voter registration hit record numbers in 2018, she said.
Ansley Lacitis, communications director for the state Democratic Party, said in an interview that Democrats were using campaign workers and volunteers to reach out to those whose votes hang in the balance.
She praised Washington state’s effort at voter inclusion.
“You had a lot of close, exciting races there,” Lacitis said. “Certainly there’s been heightened focus on this midterm.”
Check your vote
▪ To check if your ballot has been counted, go online to myvote.wa.gov, fill out your name and birthdate, then click “ballot status.”