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One county, two recounts

Final results from Washington’s 2018 general election will be certified by each county today, November 27. Three races in the State Legislature will then head to recounts — two of the three will take place in Whatcom County.

Washington state law mandates manual recounts for non-statewide races when a candidate wins by fewer than 150 votes and less than ¼ of a percentage point; a machine recount is required if the separation is fewer than 2,000 votes and ½ of a percentage point. All three of this year’s state-legislature recounts are tight enough that they’ll be conducted manually, and all three are for previously Republican-held seats.

One of the state’s tightest races is for the 26th LD Senate seat; Democrat Emily Randall leads Republican Marty McClendon by 104 votes (Pierce County will certify at 11 a.m., so that number may change). In the 42nd LD, both the Senate seat and a House seat are recount-bound. There, incumbent Republican Senator Doug Ericksen leads Democrat Pinky Vargas by 46 votes; and incumbent Republican Rep. Luanne Van Werven leads Democrat Justin Boneau by 80 votes.

Image: Washington Secretary of State

Debbie Adelstein, Whatcom County Auditor, said she’s set to assemble a team of 20 to 22 trained staff members  — not arbitrarily chosen volunteers, she emphasized — to tackle the two manual recounts as soon as current results are certified.

“We plan on doing it in teams of two with 10 or 11 teams available to us to count,” Adelstein said. “These are people who regularly deal with our election process. Then observers from all interested parties can be here to observe the process. We’ll be pulling ballots back out and going through and hand-counting them.”

It’s not typical, she said, that the county office would need to perform two recounts at once — but, since they’re both in the same district, it shouldn’t be too much more complicated than a single recount.

Once the team has gone through every ballot for one race, that race’s manual count is reconciled with the original machine count; then, the process will start over for the second race.

The total number of Whatcom voters who voted in the Senate race is 72,636; and 72,404 voted in the House race. That means that Adelstein’s staff will need to count 145,040 ballots, total — roughly 7,000 ballots per team member, on average.

“It’ll take us a while to get that done by hand,” Adelstein said. “We hope to finish it within a week or so.”

After all that counting, it’s not likely that results for the two races will change. According to the Washington Secretary of State, 95 percent of mandatory recounts in the last 11 years haven’t changed an election’s outcome.

“Slightly different is not unexpected, but we all aim for perfection,” Adelstein said. “I’m trying to be calm. Can you tell?”

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