‘Ballot-chasing’ underway in races that are too close to call

South Sound political activists weren’t passively waiting for more ballots to be counted Thursday in several too-close-to-call races.

They were busy doing what is known as ballot-chasing: Contacting voters who had problems with the signatures on their ballots, and helping them sign the forms needed to fix those issues and get their votes counted.

Both political parties had volunteers out Thursday chasing ballots in Pierce County’s 28th Legislative District, where University Place Democrat Christine Kilduff and Lakewood Republican Paul Wagemann were nearly deadlocked in a race for an open state House seat.

Republican and Democratic volunteers were also contacting voters in the 26th Legislative District, where incumbent state Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, was barely trailing challenger Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard.

Ballot-chasing was similarly underway in a close Pierce County Council race between Democrat Derek Young and incumbent Republican Stan Flemming, and in a tight legislative contest between state Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, and Dan Griffey, R-Allyn.

Those races were so close this week that they looked as though they could require recounts.

As of Thursday, the Pierce County Auditor’s Office had identified 416 ballots that were missing signatures and 916 ballots where signatures didn’t match a person’s voter registration, county elections manager Mike Rooney said.

Party officials and campaign operatives were quick to rally teams of staffers and volunteers to chase those votes, a process that is formally known as “ballot curing.”

“Thanks to the state Democrat organizations, we’ve already started a careful process of ‘curing’ the few hundred ballots that haven’t been counted because of some technical problem: bad signature, coffee stain over the vote, etc.,” Seaquist’s campaign wrote in an email to his supporters Thursday.

Also Thursday, the campaign of state Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, was rallying supporters to help chase ballots for Seaquist, Kilduff and Young.

Meanwhile, the Kitsap County Republican Party was sending out squads to chase the ballots of likely Republican voters in the Caldier-Seaquist race, and in the race between Haigh and Griffey in the 35th Legislative District.

“Everyone thinks elections end Nov. 4, that first Tuesday,” said Chris Tibbs, chairman of the Kitsap County Republican Party. “They seldom do.”

Emails from Democratic operatives indicated that ballot-chasing could continue through the weekend and into next week.

Jeannie Mitchell, chairwoman of the Pierce County Democrats, said ballot-chasing is particularly important for Democrats this year given how Tuesday’s election results appear to have cut into their majority in the state House.

“With the losses we took, we’re fighting for our lives here,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to get as many good Democrats in there as we can.”

To ensure they are targeting likely Democratic voters, Mitchell said party officials cross-reference the list of disqualified ballots with data they have on voters’ political preferences.

The game plan is similar for Republicans looking to secure wins for Caldier, Wagemann and Griffey, said Chad Minnick, a Republican campaign consultant.

Minnick said the efforts of Republican vote-chasers might merely balance out those of Democrats.

But knowing that makes this week’s ballot-chasing operations all the more important, he said.

“At the end of the day, we’re doing this because if we don’t, the other people will,” said Minnick, who worked this year on the campaign of Tacoma state Sen. Steve O’Ban. “They’ll net 100 ballots and we won’t.”

“They might cancel each other out, but if we don’t do it, we’ll lose.”