Although ballots were sent to Washington homes more than two weeks ago, Tuesday is The Day.
The last chance. The big enchilada. Election Day.
After 8 p.m. Tuesday, the phones will stop ringing with recorded messages begging voters to cast their ballots.
The television and radio airwaves will be free of back-to-back commercials from candidates trying to deliver the nastiest kidney punch to an opponent. Candidates will get off street corners and will stop waving their campaign signs at passing motorists.
Computer buttons will be pushed at county elections offices around the state, and the results will become clear after months of campaigns for three statewide initiatives, a U.S. Senate seat, nine U.S. House seats, all of the state House, half the state Senate and elective posts in county courthouses.
Make that mostly clear.
With 34 of the state’s 39 counties – including all counties in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District – voting exclusively by mail-in ballot, the bulk of the votes are expected to be processed and available to count by Tuesday evening.
But most ballots mailed Monday and Tuesday won’t be counted until later in the week, after they’ve had signatures checked and separated from their security envelopes.
The state’s most populous county, King County, doesn’t vote exclusively by mail and will have to count returns from its poll sites throughout the night, as will Pierce and three other counties. They’ll have absentee ballots to count, also, in the following days.
Late last week, Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state’s chief elections officer, warned the news media not to call statewide races too soon. Close races may hang in the balance until late in the week, although elections officials shudder at the prospect of a repeat of the 2004 gubernatorial election, which was so close it required two weeks to count, plus two recounts, before a winner was known. And even then Democrat Chris Gregoire’s 129-vote lead was subject to a court challenge that lasted until the following May.
This year’s election does feature hotly contested races. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a freshman Democrat, is locked in a high-stakes campaign against Republican Mike McGavick, a former chief executive officer of Safeco Insurance and a former chief of staff to Slade Gorton, the incumbent Cantwell beat in 2000. They’ve argued over everything from Iraq to immigration to Social Security over the past two months, and share the ballot with Libertarian Bruce Guthrie, the Green Party’s Aaron Dixon and independent Robin Adair.
In Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, Republican freshman Rep. Cathy McMorris faces a challenge from Democrat Peter Goldmark, an Okanogan rancher and former Washington State University regent, in a race that seems to have surprised national campaign organizations from both parties. Goldmark’s surge may have been helped by scandals in Congress, such as the resignation of Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, who sent sexually explicit messages to congressional pages. McMorris has countered by raising questions about higher taxes if Democrats take over Congress.
Voters also decide three statewide initiatives – one that would repeal the estate tax, one that would force local governments to pay landowners for any regulation that affects their property and a third that would force utilities to get more of their electricity from alternative sources. An amendment to the state constitution also would raise the personal property tax exemption to $15,000 from the current limit of $3,000.
Three state Supreme Court seats are on the ballot, but only one is contested. Incumbent Justice Susan Owens faces state Sen. Stephen Johnson, while the other two incumbents, Gerry Alexander and Tom Chambers, beat their sole opponents in the primary.
The most hotly contested legislative seat in Eastern Washington, at least based on the amount of money spent by the candidates and independent groups trying to help or hurt their chances, is Spokane’s 6th District Senate seat. Brad Benson, a 10-year veteran of the Legislature who won the seat two years ago after Jim West became Spokane’s mayor, faces Democrat Chris Marr, a former executive of a Spokane auto dealership and former chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.
In northeast Washington’s 7th District, Republican Sen. Bob Morton, of Kettle Falls, a 12-year legislative veteran, faces Chris Zaferes, of Tonasket, a Red Cross volunteer and reserve deputy sheriff.
The 6th District also has two contested House races – Rep. John Serben, a Republican, faces Spokane School Board member Don Barlow while Rep. John Ahern faces perennial candidate Barbara Lampert. Other legislative districts have some uncontested races.
In central Spokane’s 3rd District, which leans Democratic in most elections, Rep. Alex Wood faces Republican Laura Carder, a political novice, but his seatmate, Rep. Timm Ormsby, gets a free pass. In the Valley’s 4th District, which leans Republican, Rep. Lynn Schindler, a four-term incumbent, faces Democrat Ed Foote, a substitute teacher, but her seatmate, Rep. Larry Crouse, drew no opponent.
In the 7th District, which also trends Republican, Rep. Bob Sump of Republic faces a challenge from computer manager Jack Miller, who lives near Cheney, but Rep. Joel Kretz, a freshman Republican, is unopposed. In southeast Washington’s 9th District, another GOP stronghold, Republican Steve Hailey, a Mesa farmer, faces Democrat Caitlin Ross, a recent Gonzaga University graduate, but Rep. David Buri, of Colfax, has no opponent.
Most executive spots in the Spokane County courthouse are also on the line. County Commissioner Phil Harris, a three-term incumbent, faces a strong challenge from Democrat Bonnie Mager, a neighborhood activist, in a race that’s included hot debates over the county’s land-use policies.
Other county matchups include a race between incumbent Assessor Ralph Baker and Democrat Judy Personett, incumbent Auditor Vicky Dalton and Republican Mike Volz, incumbent Prosecutor Steve Tucker and Democrat Bob Caruso, and incumbent Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Democrat James Flavel. The treasurer’s position is open, with former Treasurer Skip Chilberg, a Democrat, running against the current Deputy Treasurer Bob Wrigley.
All nine District Court seats are on the ballot, but only four are contested. Incumbent Greg Tripp faces Jeffrey Leslie, and incumbent Patti Connolly Walker faces Mary Logan. Debra Hayes is running against Mike Nelson for one open seat, and John Cooney is competing with Mark Laiminger for the other open seat.