Local Election

Ericksen, Van Werven hang on to legislative seats after hand recount — but just barely

Chief Deputy Auditor Diana Bradrick, right, listens to an elections worker’s question Monday during the recount at the County Courthouse. At left is Bellingham lawyer Brett Bonner, an observer representing state Sen. Doug Ericksen.
Chief Deputy Auditor Diana Bradrick, right, listens to an elections worker’s question Monday during the recount at the County Courthouse. At left is Bellingham lawyer Brett Bonner, an observer representing state Sen. Doug Ericksen. The Bellingham Herald

A hand recount has confirmed the Nov. 6 election victories of two incumbents in the 42nd Legislative District of Whatcom County — races so close that extra ballot scrutiny was required under state law.

Both state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, and state Rep. Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden retained their seats, each by fewer than 100 votes out of more than 72,000 cast, according to the final Canvassing Board meeting Wednesday afternoon.

“I’d like to point out that write-in votes in both races were enough to turn the vote,” said County Council member Rud Browne, a member of the Canvassing Board.

Ericksen won his third Senate term, defeating Democratic challenger Pinky Vargas, a Bellingham City Council member, by 45 votes —49.9 percent to 49.8 percent — out of 72,779 votes cast.

Vargas gained one vote in the recount; there were 148 write-ins.

“We feel really good,” Ericksen said, noting that he was outspent by Democrats in the fall campaign and that he had trailed his two Democratic opponents’ combined votes in the August primary.

“When you’re going against those kinds of numbers and are still able to pull out a victory, that’s a good thing,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Van Werven won her third House term, defeating Democratic opponent Justin Boneau of Bellingham by 50 percent to 49.9 percent, or 81 votes.

Van Werven gained one vote in the recount; there were 90 write-ins.

“I didn’t expect the recount to change the outcome,” Van Werven said by phone from Olympia on Wednesday. “I’m so grateful for all the people who’ve worked since the election.”

Boneau accepted his loss in an interview Wednesday and didn’t rule out a second try in two years.

“I knew that it was an uphill battle,” Boneau said. “I’m not big on moral victories. I wish I would’ve won. But it tells me that people are ready to have change.”

A total of 110,504 ballots were counted in the November midterms, for a Whatcom County turnout of 77 percent, a figure that compares to turnout for presidential races.

Turnout was 72 percent across Washington state, according to a Wednesday email from Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

Wyman said statewide voter participation in the 2018 midterms was topped only by the 2012 and 2016 presidential races and was among the nation’s highest turnout rates.

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An elections worker signals to ask a question as the recount continued Monday at the County Courthouse. Only green markers were allowed at elections workers tables, to eliminate the possibility that a ballot could be changed. Robert Mittendorf The Bellingham Herald

In the 42nd District’s other legislative race, Democratic candidate Sharon Shewmake of Bellingham defeated incumbent state Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, by 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, or 981 votes.

Shewmake’s margin of victory was outside the requirement for a hand recount.

Democrats campaigned hard in the midterm election to “flip the 42nd,” a historically conservative district that encompasses Bellingham’s northern neighborhoods, plus rural Whatcom County and its small cities.

With Ericksen’s and Van Wervern’s leads so close, both Democratic and Republican party workers and volunteers tried to persuade voters to “cure” several hundred ballots that elections workers had challenged because signatures on their ballot didn’t match signatures on file in the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office.

That effort ended Nov. 26, the day before the county Canvassing Board met Nov. 27 to certify the election.

Elections Supervisor Amy Grasher walks past teams of workers Monday as the recount progressed Monday at the County Courthouse. Robert Mittendorf The Bellingham Herald

That was also the deadline for overseas and military ballots to be counted.

Recounts started Nov. 29 and finished Tuesday morning, said Auditor Debbie Adelstein.

Representatives of both parties observed the canvass and the recount, which also was open to the public.

Chief Deputy Auditor Diana Bradrick said in an interview Monday the process was intended for transparency and to retain voter confidence in the election system.

Ballots for the Nov. 6 election were removed from their locked vault, then sorted to allow only those that pertained to the 42nd District, Bradrick said.

Then 11 teams of two elections workers counted the ballots — each checking the other’s number and then matching it against the original machine count.

“It restored my faith in the system,” said Bellingham lawyer Brett Bonner in an interview Monday. Bonner represented Ericksen at the Canvassing Board meetings and during the recount.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty