Former state Sen. Jeff Baxter is paying for a partial recount of ballots in his unsuccessful bid to retain his Spokane Valley seat despite losing the race by more than 3,400 votes.
Baxter’s opponent in the contest, Mike Padden, was sworn in as senator representing the 4th Legislative District on Tuesday soon after the Spokane County Canvassing Board certified the results.
Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said Baxter submitted a check for $1,174 to recount 10 precincts. She said he was required to make a down payment of 25 cents per ballot. He will get a refund if the cost of the recount is less.
Baxter, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year, lost it in the November election by 3,437 votes after garnering only 45 percent of the vote.
Reached Wednesday afternoon, Baxter declined to comment when asked if he thought the race was fair. He noted that state law doesn’t require candidates to say why they are asking for a recount and said he would answer questions after a recount is completed.
Mike Padden, who was in the middle of his second day as the 4th District’s new state senator Tuesday afternoon, said he had just been informed that Baxter had asked for a recount but didn’t know “what his rationale is.”
“The vote was pretty overwhelming. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Padden said.
“There is a high undervote,” he said, referring to the term used for a ballot that had no candidate marked for that race. “But you’d expect a high undervote when there’s no Democrat in the race.”
Padden and Baxter are both Republicans, and the Spokane County Democratic Party didn’t field a candidate for the race to fill the seat in the strongly conservative and Republican 4th District. Some long-time Valley Democrats said earlier this fall they expected many strong party members to just sit out the race rather than trying to choose between Republicans.
Baxter's request could mean that the scheduled recount in the Spokane City Council race between Richard Rush and Mike Allen might be done by machine. The Spokane County Canvassing Board on Tuesday voted to count ballots by hand even though the law would allow them to be recounted by machine. Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton requested a hand count to ensure new vote counting equipment is working properly.
Dalton said Wednesday that recounting the Baxter race by hand would make recounting the Rush-Allen race manually less important. The Canvassing Board will meet at 1 p.m. Thursday to decide how to perform the City Council recount.
State law requires taxpayer-funded recounts when the tally is within a half percentage point. But candidates can pay for recounts if the count is outside that margin.
Rush on Wednesday questioned if Baxter’s request for a recount might be an attempt to prevent a hand recount in the Spokane City Council race - since Padden’s margin of victory was so big.
Rush, who trails Allen by 88 votes, has called for a hand recount because of the number of ballots cast in his district that didn’t include choices for City Council. About 14 percent of voters in Rush’s south district didn’t select between Allen and Rush. That compares to about 11 percent of voters who left selections empty in the city’s two other City Council races. Since he is the incumbent and Allen formerly served on the council, Rush said voters would have been more likely to make a choice
“It defies logic,” he said.
But Dalton said she believes it’s possible that because the two candidates were better known, voters may have been confused about who was the incumbent, leading some to leave ovals for the race blank.
Matthew Pederson, chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party, said the party is not involved in Baxter’s request for a recount and didn’t know he planned to request it until after he did.
He added that the county should not do a hand recount for City Council unless results are within a quarter percentage point — when state law requires a hand recount. The GOP backed Allen’s candidacy.
“We want to honor the procedures and we want to stick to the procedures so we know what we’re doing is proper and correct,” Pederson said.
County officials Tuesday said state law allows counties to decide how recounts be handled for outcomes with margins between between a quarter and half percentage point and that its not unusual for counties to opt to count them manually.