The Ocean Shores mayoral election has become the never-ending saga, with the drama now continuing until at least Tuesday, Nov. 26, and possibly beyond, with a mandatory recount very likely.
Nov. 26 is when the Grays Harbor County Auditor’s office is expected to certify the results of the race that as of the most recent ballot count has incumbent Crystal Dingler ahead of challenger and City Council member Susan Conniry by just four votes — 1,603-1,599. The Nov. 26 numbers will add in the remaining rejected ballots that have been resolved, and the total number of votes separating the two candidates will determine whether the race remains so close that a recount is automatically ordered.
The county’s elections administrator, Scott Turnbull, explained why that is a serious possibility. On Friday afternoon, the Auditor’s Office still had close to 20 ballots that were problematic, so they couldn’t yet be counted. But the voters have until the day before certification day, Nov. 26, to rectify the problem.
Dozens of ballots were initially rejected for reasons such as late postmarks, ballot envelopes not being signed or signatures not matching the signatures on file. The Auditor’s Office has been contacting voters by mail or calling if they have a phone number. The campaigns have also been given the list of names to contact the voters if they wish.
The elections staff has authority to determine if a ballot is valid, but on certification day, the county canvassing board — consisting of chairman of the County Commission, Randy Ross, Prosecutor Katie Svoboda and Auditor Joe MacLean — will examine the unresolved ballots and make a final determination.
If the final difference between the two candidates is less than one-half of 1% of the total ballots cast in that race, a machine recount is mandated by state law. A hand recount is required if the difference is less than one-fourth of 1%. With 3,229 mayoral votes counted as of Nov. 14, the four-vote difference was well within the threshold for a hand recount at 0.124 of 1%, about one-eighth of 1%.
If all 20 unresolved ballots are added, bringing the total count to 3,249, it would take a difference of 16 votes or less to mandate a machine recount and a difference of eight votes or less to trigger a hand recount.
The math shows that one or the other forms of automatic recount is almost a certainty. With Dingler leading by four votes, even if Conniry gets all 20 unresolved votes, she would be ahead by only 16 (1,619-1,603) and a machine recount would be ordered. To avoid a mandatory recount, Dingler would need to receive at least 17 of the 20 votes, making the final count at least 1,620-1,602, an 18-vote margin.
No matter what the Nov. 26 numbers show, candidates and their supporters can pay for a recount regardless of the percentage difference in the vote. Machine recounts cost 15 cents per vote and hand recounts are 25 cents per vote.
The candidates offered comments on the ongoing story:
Conniry said: “What a tight race! Every vote really does count. Given the large percentage of citizens who voted, we are clearly a city united by our interest in local government. We hope to prevail and look forward to including everyone we serve in the decisions we make. Thanks to all who know their vote is their voice.”
Dingler commented, “Obviously I am disappointed that we lost some votes but we’re still in the same place we were — we have to wait and see what happens. We’re just on hold.”
The five Ocean Shores City Council races are all decided, although final determination on the questionable ballots will alter the final official numbers slightly. In the Nov. 14 count, the results were as follows:
Council Position 2, incumbent Kathryn Sprigg leads Michael Darling 1,627 – 1,154.
Council Position 3, Frank Elduen leads Richard Wills, 1,488 – 1,269.
Council Position 4, incumbent Jon Martin leads Lorraine Hardin 1,416 – 1,367.
Council Position 6, incumbent Bob Peterson leads Chuck Anderson 1,614 – 1,116.
Council Position 7, incumbent Eric Noble leads David Linn 1,428 – 1,284.