Local Election

Hand recounts required in these two Whatcom County races

Close races could end in a recount. How does that work?

Days after the Nov. 6, 2018 election, three closely watched races in the 42nd Legislative District of northern Whatcom County are within the margin for a mandatory recount.
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Days after the Nov. 6, 2018 election, three closely watched races in the 42nd Legislative District of northern Whatcom County are within the margin for a mandatory recount.

Recounts are slated to start Thursday in a pair of Whatcom County legislative races that have been too close to call since Election Day.

Two outcomes remain in limbo — the state House seat that pits Lynden Republican Rep. Luanne Van Werven against Democratic challenger Justin Boneau of Bellingham and the state Senate seat between two-term Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale and his Democratic challenger, Bellingham City Councilwoman Pinky Vargas.

Both are in the 42nd Legislative District, a historically conservative area that encompasses rural northern Whatcom County, its small cities, and Bellingham’s northern neighborhoods.

Ericksen and Van Werven hold slim leads in both races.

Only the Ericksen-Vargas race could have statewide implications after Democrats gained at least 14 seats in the House but just two in the Senate, according to a recent interview with Ansley Lacitis, communications director for the state Democratic Party.

Whatcom County Auditor Debbie Adelstein said the 42nd District races are the biggest recounts locally since the governor’s election of November 2004, which Democrat Chris Gregoire won, after three recounts, by 129 votes out of 2.8 million cast statewide.

“That’s the only one that compares in size. We don’t do them very often, that’s for sure,” Adelstein said Tuesday in an interview.

That election also featured a rare reversal, because most recounts don’t change the initial outcome, according to electoral research conducted by FairVote.org, a nonpartisan group that advocates for election reform.

After the most recent count, posted online Monday night, Van Werven leads Boneau by 50.06 percent to 49.94 percent — a margin of 80 votes out of 72,404 votes cast.

Ericksen remains ahead of Vargas by 50.03 percent to 49.97 percent — a margin of 46 votes out of 72,636 votes cast.

Both races are close enough for a hand recount, which state law requires when the difference between candidates is one-quarter of 1 percent and less than 150 votes.

For the other 42nd District House seat, four-term Rep. Vincent Buys lost to Western Washington University economics professor Sharon Shewmake, 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, a margin outside the recount requirement.

Adelstein said the county Canvassing Board was meeting Tuesday afternoon to certify the election, a formality after the final count Monday night.

Monday’s count included overseas and military votes received since the Nov. 6 midterm election and ballots that were accepted after being challenged in the first counting — mostly for ballot envelope signatures that didn’t match those on file from when the voter registered.

Some 110,504 votes were counted in all Whatcom County races, for a turnout of 77 percent — a rate closer to a presidential election than for a midterm race, local elections officials said.

Countywide voter registration hit record numbers in 2018, Adelstein said.

Adelstein said it will be next week before winners are declared in the recounts.

“I expect that it will take five days,” she said. “We have to go and pull every single ballot and do it by hand.”

A required recount in the August “top two” primary — to see who would face U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen in the 2nd Congressional District — took 4½ days to complete, she said.

This recount will use 22 people in teams of two, including Auditors Office staff and temporary elections workers, working in a room on the fifth floor of the County Courthouse.

In addition, there will be supervisors and observers from political parties and the campaigns of all four candidates involved, Adelstein said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty