By 10 p.m. Tuesday, the only thing certain about a vote to form a city in the Spokane Valley was that it was going to be a cliffhanger.
With 10 precincts counted, 58 percent of the voters opposed incorporation, compared to 42 percent in favor.
An hour earlier, a machine that counted 999 absentee ballots reported 499 in favor of the proposal and 500 against it.
But the machine couldn’t count one crumpled ballot that was marked “yes.” It would be counted later, by hand, said Spokane County elections supervisor Tom Wilbur, who didn’t expect final election results until after 11 p.m.
It was the third time in five years Valley residents voted on incorporation. The first two proposals, in 1990 and 1994, failed with 34 percent and 44 percent of the vote respectively.
With 73,000 residents Tuesday’s proposal was smaller than the previous two, but still would be the seventh-largest city in Washington.
As with the earlier elections, this year’s incorporation debate hinged on taxes and representation.
Proponents say the Valley, which includes a quarter of all Spokane County residents, is under-represented by the three county commissioners.
Opponents warned that the new city would be expensive and inefficient.