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Spin Control: Ballot count all but over, here are some takeaways from the 2023 election

A voter casts her ballot outside of the downtown Spokane Public Library.  (Libby Kamrowski)

Some years voters have to wait until the count of the last handful of ballots to pass muster with the Spokane County canvassing board before knowing the outcome.

This isn’t one of them. We can pretty well stick a fork in the 2023 Spokane elections.

Certainty in the results allows for some earlier-than-usual analysis. Here are some takeaways from the most recent Spokane municipal elections:

• Lisa Brown is one of the most experienced candidates to become mayor in this century. Along with serving 20 years in the Legislature, she also served as chancellor for Washington State University Spokane and director of the state Commerce Department.

It’s a bit unusual for Spokane voters to pick someone with that level of experience for mayor.

Incumbent Nadine Woodward was a first-time candidate in 2019, as was David Condon in 2011. Mary Verner served a term on the City Council before winning the mayor’s race in 2007. John Powers, elected in 2000, was new to electoral politics.

Only Jim West, who served in the Legislature and on the City Council before being elected mayor in 2003, had more elective experience than Brown.

• Selecting a former campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to run the Woodward campaign seemed like an unusual choice early this year for her race against Brown and the results mostly bore that out.

Matched up against Brown in 2018, McMorris Rodgers won re-election easily in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, but Brown beat her by more than 16,000 votes inside the Spokane city limits.

The Woodward campaign captured some northeast city precincts that McMorris Rodgers lost in 2018 but that might have been partly the result of the northeast precincts trending more toward conservative or populist candidates and causes in recent years.

Donald Trump carried most of those precincts in 2016 and 2020, although Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, respectively, got the most votes in the city. Many northeast precincts went for Cindy Wendle over Breean Beggs in the 2019 council president race, although Beggs won citywide.

• Spokane reverted to its one-and-done trend for mayors after David Condon managed re-election in 2015. The trend started in 1981, when three successive mayors – Ron Bair, Jim Chase and Vicki McNeill decided to quit after one term. But Sheri Barnard, Jack Geraghty, John Talbott, Powers, Dennis Hession and Verner all lost bids to stay in office.

West was recalled, so apparently having extensive political experience is not always a plus.

• As in the past, some people might be tempted to ascribe a sitting mayor’s loss to the infamous “Gypsy Curse,” allegedly laid upon the city because of a long-running dispute with the Marks family. The problem with that now, as in the past, is the trend of one-term mayors predates the leveling of the curse in 1986. Not that anyone who believes in such things ever lets inconvenient facts get in the way of a good story.

• Later counts tended to help liberal or progressive candidates, particularly in the mayor’s race. Brown was ahead by 1,577 votes on Election Night, but now has a lead of 2,822 votes. Woodward lost ground in most counts in the days after the election.

This is normal in most Spokane city elections, although later counts tend to favor Republicans or conservatives countywide. In statewide elections, Republican candidates and conservative ballot measures often gain votes in the later counts, but in Seattle and some other cities in Pugetopolis, liberals or progressives in close races often come from behind.

It may be because conservative Republican voters are more likely to send their ballots in early, using the mail rather than the drop boxes because Trump and others have blasted mail-in voting.

A generation ago, later vote counts, which were true absentee ballots counted after the poll site boxes, favored Republicans because they were more likely to be out of town on Election Day.

Correcting the record

Last week’s Spin Control incorrectly reported the source of campaign contributions to three liberal or progressive Spokane City Council candidates. Paul Dillon, Kitty Klitzke and Lindsey Shaw all received personal donations from Sharon Smith and Don Barbieri, not the Progressive Fund that bears the two donors’ names.

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