Elections

Pierce County election week ends with tight races, possible recounts

Kriss Peters (left) helps Carol Goldstein (right) collect and sort ballots at the Kandle Park drop box Monday morning in Tacoma. It was the last stop of the day before they transported those and other ballots in sealed plastic containers to the Pierce County elections center. November 2, 2015.
Kriss Peters (left) helps Carol Goldstein (right) collect and sort ballots at the Kandle Park drop box Monday morning in Tacoma. It was the last stop of the day before they transported those and other ballots in sealed plastic containers to the Pierce County elections center. November 2, 2015. Staff

Election week in Pierce County ended with five days of official counting, nearly 151,000 ballots tabulated, dozens of races settled and gallons of coffee consumed at election headquarters in Tacoma.

It also ended with two tax measures in limbo and some candidates in tight races in University Place, Gig Harbor and Orting thirsty for clear answers.

Will they win, lose or go to a recount?

For those trailing, the opportunity to catch up is slipping away.

The Elections Department has only 850 total ballots left to tally countywide, and Auditor Julie Anderson said those are likely to be done by the middle of next week.

“This is the messy part of the election,” Anderson said. “Now it’s just getting through the dregs.”

By that she means ballots that have been challenged or are flawed for some reason — for instance, ballots that were so poorly marked that voter intent has to be inferred and new ballots “remade.”

The biggest financial stakes are at play in Tacoma, where supporters of a $13 million annual package of street improvements were gaining ground but still losing by 48 votes out of 34,908 counted ballots by the end of Friday.

Tacoma officials could not be reached for comment after the auditor released updated vote totals. Mayor Marilyn Strickland has said that if this proposition fails, she will look to bring a similar request for road-repair funds back to voters soon.

The other unsettled ballot measure is a proposed utility tax increase for police services in Orting. It was failing by nine votes.

For a few local government races, the chance of a recount is still very much alive.

Anderson had several races on her watch list Friday: County Charter Review District 2 Position 1 (Grant Pelesky vs. Laura Groves); Gig Harbor City Council Position 6 (Michael Perrow vs. Jenni Woock); Orting City Council Position 5 (Guy Colorossi vs. Nicola McDonald); Orting School District 2 (Stanley Holland vs. Jim Winkle); and University School District 5 (Rick Maloney vs. Annie Fitzsimmons).

As of Friday, the Orting council race and the UP school race were the only ones triggering automatic recounts.

Don’t think a single vote can make a difference? Tell that to McDonald, who has amassed 652 votes compared to Colorossi’s 653.

Under state law, a machine recount is required when the difference between the top two candidates is fewer than 2,000 votes and also less than half of 1 percent of the total number of votes cast for both candidates.

A manual recount is required when the difference between the top two candidates is fewer than 150 votes and also less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the total votes cast for both candidates.

Candidates who fall outside those parameters can still request a recount, but they have to pay for it.

Anderson said any recounts would likely take place the week of Nov. 30 — after the election is officially certified on Nov. 24, followed by the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Meanwhile, officials are stumped why voter participation was so low this year. Pierce County’s turnout was hovering at 33.5 percent, just off the statewide turnout of 34 percent.

Anderson had predicted 42 percent turnout, which would have mirrored the general election two years ago.

“I honestly don’t know why (it fell short),” she said Friday. “I guess the federal just drives everything, and if you don’t have a senator or congressperson up for re-election, you just don’t get turnout. It’s disappointing.”

She did highlight a few pockets of strong turnout including Fircrest, Gig Harbor and Carbonado.

News Tribune staff writer Derrick Nunnally contributed to this report.

See election results online

For a chart with Friday’s updated election results for Pierce and South King County, go to bit.ly/1KWL5Kw

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