The state’s major political parties don’t like the new primary election law, but it could provide them with an unexpected bonus: extra precinct officers.
Many of the state’s elections officers like the new “top two” system, but it will cause them extra work: more ties and recounts for those ground-level elective offices.
Except for precinct committee officers, races on the Spokane County ballot were settled Wednesday as elections officials certified results from the Aug. 19 primary. For state, county and legislative offices, there were no outcome changes from the first count on election night.
The one remaining close race, for second place in central Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District House race, went to Chris Bowen who beat fellow Republican Laura Carder by 36 votes and will face incumbent Rep. Alex Wood in the Nov. 4 general election.
But elections for about 40 precinct committee officers in Spokane County are either tied or separated by one or two votes, which means they will need recounts required by state law.
The unpaid positions, often described as a party’s grass-roots organization, often go begging for candidates willing to attend regular meetings and handle party business for two-year terms. Thanks in part to interest generated by the presidential campaigns, Spokane County Republicans had PCO candidates running in 210 of the county’s 285 precincts; Democrats had candidates in 109 precincts.
Most years, contested races for PCO spots are rare. This year, because supporters of unsuccessful GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul are challenging mainstream Republicans for control of the local party, Spokane County had 60 contested primaries for Republican PCO positions.
Spokane Democrats, by comparison, had 8 contested PCO races on the ballot.
But another addition to the ranks of party PCOs likely will come from write-in candidates. The PCO race is the last one on the ballot and is often a spot where voters write in a name – sometimes their own, sometimes a friend or neighbor, sometimes a fictitious character such as Mickey Mouse – particularly if no candidate is listed.
Under the new top two primary rules, a single write-in vote for a registered voter in that precinct, along with a D for Democrat or an R for Republican after the name, would be enough to elect a PCO if no other voter from the party in the precinct gets a vote. That happened in some precincts where the ballot had no PCO candidates or a candidate from only one party.
Rules for the old primary system required a PCO write-in candidate to meet a threshold of ballots. The new rules also mean that if more than one person properly wrote in a name of a registered voter in the precinct, those vote-getters would be tied if each has only a single vote.
If each got just a few write-in votes, they could be close enough for a state-mandated recount.
Spokane elections officials will have 34 recounts for Democratic PCO races, and all but one are write-in races that are tied or separated by a single vote. Republican PCO races have six recounts, five of them write-ins.
The recounts will be conducted by hand next week.
Races that remain tied – there’s one race in which four different candidates now each have one vote, Elections Supervisor Mike McLaughlin said – will be decided by drawing lots.
Because some names could have been written in by someone other than the candidate, it’s possible that the first inkling a winner has that he or she has been elected a PCO will come with a notification from the elections office. If they don’t want to serve, they can always refuse, County Auditor Vicky Dalton said.
“The results are the results, and that doesn’t change,” Dalton said. “Whether an individual chooses to take office is up to that individual.”