Former Appeals Court Judge Charlie Wiggins took a narrow lead over incumbent Justice Richard Sanders in Washington’s tight Supreme Court race Tuesday afternoon.
An analysis of voting patterns suggests Wiggins will finish ahead of Sanders and take his place on the state’s highest court when all remaining ballots are counted.
Sanders, an outspoken jurist with libertarian leanings, was first elected to the state’s highest court in 1995 and has been re-elected twice since. He has held a narrow lead since Nov. 2.
But he has consistently trailed in King County, which has about one-third of the state’s voters, and in a handful of other counties, mostly west of the Cascades. On Tuesday, King County tabulated about 45,000 of its outstanding ballots, and Wiggins inched ahead. Thirteen other counties also added to their totals, but Wiggins ended the night with a lead of about 3,600 votes.
Wiggins’ lead could grow to about 10,000 votes by the time all votes are counted later this month, calculations by The Spokesman-Review show.
That’s because some 80,000 ballots – nearly half of those that remain to be counted statewide – are in King County.
Two other counties where Sanders is leading still have significant blocks of uncounted ballots. Spokane County estimates it has 26,000 ballots to count, and Snohomish County estimates it has 21,000. Because ballots continue to trickle in to elections offices, the exact number of outstanding ballots isn’t known.
County officials also have thousands of ballots that have been temporarily rejected because voters either forgot to sign their envelopes, or the signatures on the envelopes don’t match the signatures in voter registration files.
Late last week, the Sanders campaign sent out an e-mail asking for funds to help track down voters who either didn’t sign their ballots or had signatures rejected because they don’t match registration files. Under state law, those ballots can be accepted if voters sign an affidavit or come to the county elections office. The e-mail included the message “Don’t let Wiggins steal this election,” but Sanders told the Associated Press on Monday he didn’t write it or approve the suggestion that Wiggins would steal the election.
Unless voting patterns change for the remaining tabulations, Wiggins will win and the outcome will be above the threshold set for a mandatory recount in the race.
Under state law, a recount is required in a statewide race when candidates are separated by fewer than 2,000 votes and less than one-half of 1 percent. If current trends hold, Sanders and Wiggins would be separated by slightly less than 10,000. Sanders could still ask for a recount, but would have to pay for it unless the recount reverses the result.