The final outcome of the City Council race for a seat representing south Spokane won’t be decided until next week.
That’s when the Spokane County Election’s Office will recount ballots in a contest so close that state law required a second examination.
Former Councilman Mike Allen leads incumbent Richard Rush by a mere 88 votes.
Although it’s a lead of less than half a percentage point, it is a wide enough margin that is unlikely to shrink enough to change, considering past recounts. Recounts in Spokane County have generally changed tallies by a few votes or less.
The Spokane County Canvassing Board on Tuesday unanimously agreed to Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton’s recommendation to count ballots by hand. State law only would have required the recount to be done manually if the difference had been within a quarter of a percentage point.
Dalton argued that the council race is the county’s first chance to test official ballots on a large scale since new scanners were installed this summer in the county’s six vote-counting machines, which were manufactured by Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software.
“A recount is a very rare opportunity to let us test the accuracy of the machines using the real ballots marked by actual voters,” Dalton said.
She added: “It’s an attempt to give closure to the candidates in the most definitive way possible.”
Rush gained 10 votes in the final ballot count Monday, which was the last day voters were allowed to clear up signature problems on their ballots.
More than 3,500 voters from the district who cast a ballot opted not to make a selection in the race. That’s more than 14 percent of the ballots. About 11 percent of voters in the other two council districts opted not to make a selection for a council seat. Given the familiarity of the himself and Allen along with the district’s usual high participation rate, Rush said a hand recount is needed to ensure the machine count didn’t miss votes.
“This way we see ballots,” Rush said. “This way we see the true outcome of the race.”
Curt Fackler, a long-time election observer for the county Republican Party, represented Allen at the meeting. He said Allen would have preferred a machine recount but is not worried about a manual recount and would raise no objections to it.
“I’m excited because we get to check the system,” he said.
Spokane County Republican Party Chairman Matthew Pederson, who lost the mayoral title of Airway Heights after a recount in 2009, said the county should use the vote-counting machines.
“We need to be able to trust that technology,” Pederson said.
The manual recount will begin Monday and will end Monday or Tuesday, Dalton said. The Canvassing Board will meet to finalize results on Dec. 7.