The Thurston County Canvass Board on Tuesday agreed to recount by hand a sampling of ballots to determine if the county’s computerized counting machine might have miscounted votes in the 3rd Congressional District race.
The hand count of three of 195 county precinct ballots will be part of an expected mandatory machine recount of all ballots in the race between Republican U.S. Rep. Linda Smith of Hazel Dell and Democrat Brian Baird of Olympia.
With an estimated 1,000 ballots still to be counted, Smith held a lead over Baird of 1,010 votes on Tuesday, and the Smith campaign said the congresswoman didn’t expect to garner the roughly 1,200-vote lead needed to avoid a mandatory machine recount.
Bob Van Schoorl, chief deputy Thurston County auditor, said the canvass board agreed to a request from the Democratic Party for a hand recount of at least a sampling of ballots to determine if the machine had malfunctioned. Republican and Democratic party officials will decide which three precincts will get a hand count of ballots.
“We can compare the results of the hand count of these three precincts with the machine count. If there were problems with the machine, it’ll show up,” he said.
The Democrats believe that may be the case because results so far show that an unusually large percentage of Thurston County voters neglected to mark a choice in the 3rd Congressional District race.
The Democrats noted that a drop-off in the number of votes cast generally occurs as voters move down the ticket. But the dropoff in the 3rd District race, located on the first page of the ballot under the presidential race, was 11.5 percent in Thurston County. That’s nearly twice the drop-off in other races in the county, Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said.
Baird had a strong showing in Thurston County, and Democrats are hopeful that a voluntary recount there would uncover enough uncounted ballots to give him the victory or keep the race close enough to trigger an automatic recount across the nine-county district.