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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Spokane Democrats write check for Rush-Allen recount

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Spokane City Councilman Richard Rush will get a hand recount afterall.

The incumbent councilman who trails former Councilman Mike Allen by 88 votes submitted a check this afternoon to the Spokane County Election's Office for $6,240 to pay for a full manual count of ballots in his race for the south district. He said the amount was provided by the Spokane County Democratic Party.

A recount is required because Allen's margin of victory is less than a half percentage point. The margin is larger than a quarter a percentage point -- the level that requires recounting done by hand.

The Spokane County Canvassing Board earlier this week voted to do a hand recount in the race on the advice of Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton, who said it would be better to recount by hand to allow the county to run a thorough test of new vote-counting equipment with real ballots. Soon after, however, Jeff Baxter, who lost his state Senate seat representing Spokane Valley, decided to pay $1,774 for a partial hand recount of ballots in his race, despite losing by more than 3,000 votes.

Dalton, a Democrat, said it no longer made sense for the county to pay extra for a hand recount in the Rush-Allen race since one already would be done for 10 precincts in the 4th Legislative District. Dalton and the two other members of the Canvassing Board voted Thursday to change the Allen-Rush recount to a machine count.

Rush has questioned if Baxter, a Republican, was motivated to pay for a hand recount in order to prevent his race from being recounted by hand. Baxter has declined to provide a motivation.

"He's 10 points behind," Rush said. "How can he make that up?"

The computer recount of the Rush-Allen race will move forward, along with the recount of the Baxter race against Mike Padden, next week. Dalton said the Rush-Allen race will be recounted by hand starting Dec. 12.

Dalton said the request marks the first time the county has recounted the same set of ballots twice since the 2004 governor's race.

Asked why the Democratic Party would pay for a recount, Rush noted that he was endorsed by the party.

"They were also very eager for transparency and closure," he said.

Rush has said he wants a recount in part because about 14 percent of ballots in the district did not make a selection in his race. In the other two council districts, the number of voters who didn't make a choice for council member was about 11 percent. He argues that difference doesn't make sense; Dalton has said voters may have been confused about which candidate was the incumbent because both have substantial name recognition.

Spokane city offices are nonpartisan, but parties have increasingly become more involved in campaigns. This year the state GOP gave more than $60,000 to the campaign of Mayor-elect David Condon and the county Republican Party made official recommendations for City Council, mayor and City Council president. The state Democratic Party gave to Mayor Mary Verner's campaign, and the county party endorsed Verner, candidates for City Council president and City Council.

Rush said he simply wants a closer look at the results to give transparency to a close race.

"I don't detect anything unfair at this point other than the Canvassing Board's decision to flip flop," Rush said, but he added: "We shouldn't judge the end result in the middle of the process."

Dalton said she's confident that the election was conducted fairly.

"It was fair, impartial, unbiased, and, most importantly, it was transparent," Dalton said. 

Candidates who pay for recounts submit a down payment equal to 25 cents per ballot. They are refunded costs that aren't incurred by the county. Dalton said she expects the total cost of the council recount to be about $4,300.

Dalton said a second recount will give the county a great way to judge how well the equipment is working.

"For somebody who wants to test out the quality of the machines, it doesn't get any better," Dalton said.

This story was changed on December 3, 2011 to correct an error related to Democratic Party contributions to Mayor Mary Verner's campaign.

Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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