Stevens County Prosecutor Jerry Wetle swirled a Royal Danish butter cookie tin while Auditor Tim Gray looked away and a handful of anxious Springdale residents stared at the fateful can.
With barely a pause for the tie-breaking suspense to build, Gray reached backward and fished out one of two folded pieces of paper.
“The winner is Lowell Peterson,” Gray announced, and Town Council candidate Vickie Denman shook her head.
Peterson, who had been tied with Denman for a council vacancy, was so confident in Tuesday’s lottery procedure that he didn’t bother to attend.
“I trust the way those guys are going to handle it,” Peterson said Monday. “Somebody will let me know what happens.”
Denman was less sanguine, predicting the disputed election is “long from over.”
Residents have the remainder of this week to challenge the election results, which were unchanged by manual recounts Tuesday.
As it stands, Mayor-elect Dan Hite has a one-vote victory over Floyd Pope, who will remain on the Town Council. Peterson will join John Harris on the council as Hite supporters. Observers on both sides expect Pope and Councilman Mike Pammler to be allies, while new comer Maggie May could be a swing voter.
Allegations of voting improprieties continue to swirl like the papers in the auditor’s cookie can. The town’s two evenly divided and bitterly opposed factions each accuse the other of relying on improperly registered voters.
Denman would have had a one-vote victory and Gray would have been reaching into the cookie tin to break a mayoral tie if Don Wilma’s vote hadn’t been disqualified before it could be counted. The county election canvassing board ruled Wilma doesn’t live in the city because a judge recently ruled the town’s annexation of his property was improper.
Critics say Wilma, who transferred his registration from Cowlitz County shortly before the election and mailed in an absentee ballot, has never lived in Springdale. A challenger was too late to keep Wilma’s brother and sister-in-law, Al and Saundra Wilma - who registered at the same address - from voting at the polls.
Election coordinator Scott Burgess said election workers incorrectly listed Al Wilma as a Springdale voter when he transferred his registration to the disputed address last year - before it was annexed. He said the election staff made a similar error in registering another nonresident, who voted before the mistake was caught.
Ballots cast at the polls can’t be identified or retrieved.
Election workers toyed with the idea of using Ping-Pong balls to break the tie, but Burgess joked that officials stuck with the tried-and-true cookie tin for fear the factions would throw Ping-Pong balls at each other.
He said the cookie tin is used regularly to choose the order in which candidates appear on ballots, but has never been used to break a tie in his four years on the job.
Four years is not a lot of history, Burgess admitted, “but I’ve aged considerably.”
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