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Automatic recount appears less likely in Spokane Co. auditor race

Savanna Roche, Spokane Public Radio

The Spokane County auditor’s race remains tight, but the race may not qualify for an automatic recount.

Out of more than 217,000 ballots cast in the auditor’s race, incumbent Vicky Dalton led challenger Bob McCaslin by 1,201 votes. By percentages, unofficial results Wednesday showed Dalton with 50.25 percent of the vote and McCaslin with 49.70 percent.

Under Washington state law, a machine recount would be required when candidates are separated by less than 2,000 votes and one-half of a percentage point in the totals. That “and” is a critical word, because while Dalton and McCaslin are indeed separated by fewer than 2,000 votes, the percentage gap is 0.6 percent – just outside the range for a required recount.

But the race isn’t done yet. Mike McLaughlin, Spokane County’s elections manager, said an official outcome won’t be known until results are certified November 29. The Spokane County Canvassing Board will certify the results that day, and determine whether the margins require a machine recount, McLaughlin said.

In that event, McLaughlin said not all of the 217,000 ballots cast in the race would actually be recounted. Only “undervotes” would be examined. Undervotes are ballots on which no clear choice was marked. Reviewers will look at images of those ballots to see if there is marking that could be counted as a vote under state rules. Much like the initial counting process that took place beginning election night, observers appointed by political parties and candidates are permitted to watch the examination happen.

There were 4,039 undervotes in the auditor’s race Wednesday evening, according to the unofficial tally.

Voters whose ballots were challenged also have a chance to fix the issue – such as a mismatched signature – and have their ballots counted. They have until November 28 to remedy their ballot. The Washington Secretary of State’s office reported 3,164 challenged ballots in Spokane County Wednesday.

Even if the results as certified November 29 show no need for an automatic recount, a candidate, a political party officer, or a group of five or more registered voters may request one. An application for a recount must be filed within two business days after official results are declared.

Recounts in Spokane County races are not rare, McLaughlin said. In many cases, the recounts are in lower-profile races, such as those for partisan precinct committee officers. Others resulted when results showed a tie between candidates.

The auditor is Spokane County’s top election official. Dalton has been in office since 1999. McCaslin, a former state lawmaker from Spokane Valley, sponsored bills and signed a petition this summer that reflect doubt in the integrity of electoral processes. McCaslin said this fall he had no proof of fraud or concrete problems with the way Spokane County conducts its elections.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.