By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
As of Nov. 25, the final election results showed Sultan City Council Position 3 candidate Rocky Walker in the lead with only four votes separating him from his opponent, incumbent Councilmember Kay George. On Friday, the Snohomish County Auditor’s office performed an official recount.
The recount was conducted at the Pacific Crest Tabulation Center located in Everett, just south of the Snohomish County Administration building. Per Washington State law, any time election returns are within one half of 1 percent, a mandatory machine recount must take place. When the final Nov. 5 election results were reported late last month, Walker had 476 votes and George had 472. The unofficial recount results, which were announced on Friday, Dec. 6, just after 4 p.m., reflected no change in the counts.
“I am certainly happy that the count came out the same as it did originally,” said Walker, who spent much of the day in Everett, observing the proceedings.
Despite the consistent result, it is likely that supporters of George will seek an additional recount to be performed manually, as opposed to being done by a machine.
The recount proceedings, which began at 9 a.m., took the majority of the day. The city of Mukilteo Council Position 1 race was recounted, along with Lake Stevens Fire District 8 Commissioner Position 1 and the city of Sultan Council Position 3.
In preparation for the recount, the ballot counting machines were calibrated to look for results in only the three contests being recounted. Three machines were utilized.
Before the ballots were counted, a test was performed on each of the three machines to ensure that they were counting accurately. A stack of ballots had been compiled strategically; the exact number of votes orchestrated by the election technicians. The ballots were fed through, and it was confirmed that the vote counts matched what was anticipated.
The ballots from Sultan’s four voting precincts were counted first.
The machines were each operated by a pair of technicians who manually fed the ballots, which were organized in boxes indicating a region’s specific voting area, also known as a precinct, into the machines in stacks of approximately 30 to 40 ballots at a time. The votes were digitally counted as the ballots were fed through the machine, after which they were returned to the precinct organization system by one of the technicians.
When the machines encountered ballots with information in the write-in area, those ballots emerged into a separate area for further examination. All write-in votes were examined manually to ensure that the voter did not misinterpret the ballot and write the name Rocky Walker or Kay George in the write-in area, despite the fact that both names were printed on the ballots.
This prevents an actual vote for a candidate from being erroneously counted as a write-in vote.
Under-vote ballots, or ballots where the voter did not choose a candidate at all, are also out-stacked in a separate area for manual examination by an election specialist. Under-votes occur when a voter choses to only vote on certain contests, leaving others blank. The under-vote ballots are analyzed to ensure that are all truly under-vote ballots, and not actual candidate votes that need to be counted.
When a voter utilizes a non-standard method of marking their ballots such as circling a candidate’s name or utilizing other methods that differ from those described in the ballot’s provided voting instructions, it will cause the ballot to be out-stacked as an under-vote ballot. There are numerous instances where the votes, despite the fact that they were not marked in accordance with standard voting procedure, are considered legal votes for a candidate and as such, must be counted.
Adhering to state law, election technicians follow a strict procedure to ensure that all legal candidate votes get added to the count appropriately.
The under-vote ballots, which are not counted during that first pass through the machine, are then sent through the machine again in a “clean-up mode.” This process digitally tabulates the true number of under-vote ballots.
Sultan’s number of under-vote ballots was 78, with eight write-in votes. Both numbers matched what was established on Nov. 25 in the official election results.
Incumbent Councilmember George said that her supporters are strongly considering funding a manual recount as “one last hail Mary.” Candidates are able to request that a second recount be performed after the results from the first recount are certified by the county. Candidates must cover the expense of the second recount themselves.
“I wasn’t surprised when Kay informed me that her supporters would likely want to pursue a hand recount,” said Walker. “Considering the amount of money they must have spent on this election… They couldn’t believe I came out ahead in this thing.”
Per state law, manual recounts are only required when the difference between two candidates is less than one quarter of 1 percent. A candidate seeking a recount may specifically request a manual recount, rather than a machine recount, which is done at a slightly higher cost.
The results from Friday’s recount will be certified at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 10. If George does choose to pursue a recount she will do so at that point or soon after, as recount measures must be filed within two business days after the results are certified.
A race may only be recounted twice.