State Supreme Court race still up in the air

MONDAY, NOV. 8, 2010, 4:07 P.M.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders said Monday that his campaign is checking on thousands of ballots that have been rejected for signature errors as ballot counting continues in his too-close-to-call re-election bid.

Just over 13,000 votes separate Sanders and his challenger Charlie Wiggins. More than a dozen counties, including vote-rich King, were set to update their election results late Monday afternoon. As of now, Sanders has 50.4 percent of the vote, compared with Wiggins’ 49.6 percent.

A re-count will occur if the final difference between Sanders and Wiggins is less than 2,000 votes and less than one-half of one percent of the total votes cast for both candidates.

“Every vote counts,” Sanders said.

In an e-mail sent to supporters on Friday titled “Don’t Let Wiggins Steal This Election,” Sanders’ campaign asked for donations to help pay for volunteers and phone calls to track down voters whose ballots were rejected. The campaign says an estimated 17,000 ballots haven’t been counted because of issues with the signature or because the voter didn’t sign.

Wiggins said that it was a “reckless” statement from Sanders’ campaign to imply he has anything to do with counting ballots.

“It’s a charge of desperation,” he said.

Sanders said Monday that he didn’t agree with, or authorize, the use of the title of the e-mail sent out by his campaign.

“If that’s what it said, it shouldn’t have said it,” he said. “I think it’s just a close election.”

Sanders has held a slim lead over Wiggins since election night, after a tough campaign that included Sanders coming under fire for controversial remarks at a court meeting that racial bias plays no significant role in the criminal justice system.

Sanders’ remarks caused The Seattle Times’ editorial board to recant its endorsement of him and instead come out in favor of Wiggins. Blacks make up 4 percent of the state’s population and nearly 20 percent of its prisoners, and studies around the country have linked such disproportionate numbers to drug enforcement policies, poverty and racial biases throughout society.

Sanders insisted Monday that his comments were misconstrued.

“My view is that crime is a choice and that depending on our circumstances, that it becomes an easier one or more difficult one,” he said. “I would never say, nor do I believe, that people commit crimes because of their race.”

Sanders said Monday that while an automatic recount may be triggered in his race, he wouldn’t request a recount if he ultimately loses and the results are outside the threshold for a mandatory one.

“It’s costly, and I assume it would not change the result,” he said.

Wiggins, a Bainbridge Island attorney who briefly served as a state appeals court judge, was leading in King County, the state’s most populous, and a handful of other counties while Sanders had big leads in Eastern Washington.

Wiggins said the vote returns favoring him in King County — where he leads with 58 percent of the vote — made him “guardedly optimistic that I will pull ahead and prevail.”

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