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Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: If elections are rigged, how did Kent pull off late primary win?

Congressional candidate Joe Kent encourages those outside the Department of Health in Tumwater on Wednesday who showed up to protest a nonexistent plan to forcibly quarantine people who refuse the COVID vaccine. Kent came in second in the state primary earlier this month against U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. Kent's showing was good enough to unseat Herrera Beutler.  (Seattle Times)
Congressional candidate Joe Kent encourages those outside the Department of Health in Tumwater on Wednesday who showed up to protest a nonexistent plan to forcibly quarantine people who refuse the COVID vaccine. Kent came in second in the state primary earlier this month against U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. Kent's showing was good enough to unseat Herrera Beutler. (Seattle Times)

The congressional race in southwest Washington should serve as a lesson to would-be elections deniers who question the integrity of the nation’s voting systems, or who insist, like the former president, that ballot counting should stop and winners be declared on Election Night.

Republican Joe Kent, running for the 3rd Congressional District seat, believes the 2020 election was actually won by Donald Trump. He decided to challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted to impeach Trump as well as to confirm the Electoral College results that awarded the presidency to Joe Biden.

On Election Night, Kent was some 5,000 votes behind Herrera Beutler and in third place in the district’s primary. Unlike in horse racing, a third -place finish in the top two primary is out of the money when the candidates cross the finish line.

Kent sent an email to supporters saying his ballot was rejected, which got some of the talking heads in conservative media questioning the fairness of the election. After all, what are the odds of the candidate himself having his ballot rejected?

Turns out, however, the ballot wasn’t rejected. Instead, it was set aside when an elections worker couldn’t match the signature on the envelope with the one they had on file for Kent. He was contacted, provided a signature that matched and his ballot was processed in the later counts.

This was an example of election officials working on the very thing Kent supposedly worries about, ballot integrity. The typical rant of election conspiracists is that anyone can steal ballots from mailboxes or somehow reproduce them and their coded envelopes, mark them for a candidate who would otherwise lose, and flood the elections office with them, thus cheating the deserving candidate out of his or her win. A valid signature is the safeguard against such imagined perfidy, as a boiler room of illegal commie terrorist immigrant felons is unlikely to be able to match the signatures of the many voters they are trying to supplant and wouldn’t be around when elections officials tried to contact the unsuspecting voter whose ballot was purloined.

In the counts, which typically involve ballots marked and mailed or deposited in drop boxes on election day, Kent went from being thousands of votes behind Herrera Beutler to being about 900 ahead. Had ballot counting stopped on Election Night, he’d have been shut out of his later victory.

Herrera Beutler didn’t cry foul or demand an investigation. She conceded. She’s been involved in enough campaigns to know that as the late votes get counted in Washington, there’s usually a slight shift as conservative candidates gain in conservative districts and liberal candidates gain in liberal districts.

Some primary election cleanup

Julie Anderson, who captured the second spot in the primary for Washington secretary of state, accomplished something no previous candidate for statewide office has done. She is the first independent candidate running for a partisan statewide office to make it through a top two primary that included members of both major parties.

Other independent or minor party candidates have survived a partisan primary that included only a Democrat or a Republican. But usually, the presence of “prefers Republican Party” and “prefers Democratic Party” after other names in the same race will draw enough votes to knock out an independent or minor party hopeful out.

In this primary, however, the presence of three Republicans fractured the party vote and each got between 10% and 12% of the ballots, allowing Anderson to edge into second place with just under 13%. The fact that she is the current Pierce County auditor and finished second in many of the Puget Sound counties also helped.

Listing a made-up minor party preference on the ballot was as successful as usual, which is to say, not at all.

Setting aside the candidates who tried to denote a particular flavor of their major party – like MAGA Republican, Independent Republican or Progressive Democrat – the best any member of a make-believe party did was 16.6% for Lori Theis of the “Election Integrity Party” in a legislative race in suburban King and Snohomish counties. That was good enough for second place as there was no Republican in the race, and twice as good as another Election Integrity candidate in a nearby district, who finished a distant third. Bad news for Theis is the incumbent Democrat, Cindy Ryu, got the other 83% of the vote.

Next best showing was by Alex Tsimerman of the Standup America Party, who got 4.2% of the vote in the 46th District State Senate primary. Still not enough to advance, but the 1,777 votes he has in that legislative district is greater than the 1,721 he got running statewide with that party preference in the 2020 gubernatorial primary.

In the U.S. Senate primary, Leon Lawson, running as a “Trump Republican” got 3%, which was three times better than Dave Saulibio got running as a “JFK Republican.” It’s tempting to say that most voters knew Saulibio’s made-up party was an oxymoron because JFK was a Democrat, but we can’t prove that with any data.

Saulibio got 1%, good enough to earn the Spin Control designation of Goodspaceguy, named for a perennial candidate who has run as a Democrat in some races, a Republican in others and a Libertarian or other third party in others and usually gets about 1%. This year Goodspaceguy ran in a Seattle-area legislative race, as a Republican, where he got about 0.8%, or not quite up to his namesake.

One legislative candidate of a made-up party who did manage a Goodspaceguy, if we round up slightly, was Austin Bryant, running for a state House seat in the 5th District for The Elven Way Party.

The 5th District, which years ago was in Spokane County, was moved west after the 1990 census and now covers an area of ex-urban King County stretching through the western Cascades up to Snoqualmie Pass. Based on the election results, however, it’s nowhere close to Middle Earth.

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