A mistake by the Spokane County elections office may have affected the outcome of a razor-thin Spangle Town Council race, but there’s nothing that can be done because the election already has been certified.
Six ballots were mistakenly sent to voters who live in unincorporated areas near – but not in – the town of Spangle earlier this year, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said Monday. Five of them were returned with votes cast in the Town Council race Ron Cockle won over Rebecca Johnson by just two votes.
Cockle’s win, 45-43, was certified by the secretary of state earlier this month. The window for a legal challenge of the race had already closed by the time the Auditor’s Office was informed of the error last week, Dalton said.
One of the homes that lie outside the Spangle town limits, but where three residents cast votes, has been voting in the city’s races since at least 1998, Dalton said.
“We notified the voters in those homes, regardless of whether they cast a ballot this year,” Dalton said Monday. “They won’t have Spangle issues on their ballots in the future.”
The Auditor’s Office was alerted to the rogue ballots by Ruth Ryan, a longtime area precinct committee officer. Ryan blamed neither voters nor election officials for the error, but said both need to remain vigilant and check their tax receipts against their mailed ballots to make sure they’re voting on the correct issues and candidates.
“It’s a two-way street,” said Ryan, who was made aware of the error by individuals who came forward with questions about their ballots.
What Ryan called the “casual” nature of mail-in voting adds to the problem, she said. Many voters assume the ballot that comes in the mail from the county is infallible, when in reality it requires coordinating data from multiple departments, including the county assessor, auditor and treasurer, before reaching the voter. Errors can occur, especially after the state Legislature redistricts every 10 years, she said.
Ten ballots for the Spangle Town Council seat were returned without voters making a choice, Dalton said. The office does not know if, or how many of, those 10 unmarked ballots came from voters who received them in error. Officials cannot say for certain whether Johnson would have won the race if not for the mistake.
Both Dalton and Ryan said the episode illustrates the importance of casting a vote.
“One vote does make a difference,” Ryan said.