RENTON — The sounds coming from a hand recount process for a close election resemble a middle-school cafeteria. Groups at 14 different tables whisper two names over and over again to figure out which one is more popular.

The subjects of the whispers, Leigh Henderson and Mason Thompson, can only watch in silence as others determine their fate. Mason, Mason, Leigh, Leigh, Mason, Mason, Leigh, Leigh.

For several hours Thursday, the groups at the King County Elections building counted each ballot that was cast in November’s general election for Henderson and Thompson, two candidates in the race for a Bothell City Council seat. Heading into the recount, five votes separated the two, with Thompson having the slight edge.

With the votes so close, the race requires a hand recount. So on Thursday, King County Elections staff members in teams of two tallied each one of the 8,022 ballots to make sure there weren’t any errors in the results.

The Bothell race was one of three recounts for King County elections. Two other city council races in Mercer Island and Redmond required a machine recount, which also was done Thursday morning.

State law requires a hand recount when the candidates are separated by less than 150 votes and a 0.25% difference in the total votes. A race requires a machine recount if the gap is less than 2,000 votes and a 0.5% difference in total votes.

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Before the recount, Varisha Khan was leading three-term incumbent Hank Myers by 66 votes in the race for the Redmond City Council Position 1 seat. The Mercer Island race between Daniel Thompson and Dave Rosenbaum was separated by 40 votes, with Rosenbaum having a slight edge.

King County Elections will certify the results of all three races Friday.

But that won’t be the end of it for Henderson and Thompson. Portions of Bothell are in King or Snohomish counties, so each county elections agency has to do its own recount. Snohomish County’s will be next week.

Neither Thompson nor Henderson had run for office before the race.

Henderson calls the process “a lesson in civics.”

“It’s been a very complete experience,” Thompson says later. “It’s one month to the day when I thought we would know, and we still don’t know.”

A hand recount requires a 15-step process after staff members locate each Bothell ballot, which entailed going through 349 boxes. That took a whole day.

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Once counting starts, each team gets a box of ballots, divided by precinct. The first person looks at the ballot, says the name aloud and hands it to the second person, who also says the name and puts it in the appropriate pile.

There were five stacks: Overvote (when the voter marked both candidates), undervote (when a voter didn’t mark either candidate) one for Thompson votes, another for Henderson, and write-ins. The team members look at the stacks again, then count each in increments of 20. They write each number in red pen on scratch paper, trade stacks and do it again. They set aside any that aren’t filled in properly or have a line through them. At one table, two ballots are questionable. One has a line through it, the other only has a tiny dot in the bubble.

A supervisor comes by and looks at each. One for Thompson, one for Henderson.

Henderson, the owner of Alexa’s Café in Bothell, sits at one table and watches. The counters are pronouncing her first name like “lay,” instead of the correct way, like “Lee.” “Mason Mason, Lay, Lay.”

“This is going to drive me nuts,” she jokingly whispers, but doesn’t move to another table. Getting up might distract the counters.

After nearly three and a half hours of counting, a supervisor announces they’ve put out the last box. Counters who have finished are free to go back to their other work, he says, and thanks them on behalf of a grateful nation.

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A friend of Thompson who came to observe a table comes over to tell Thompson that he pointed out a sorting error during one of the counts. The pair high-five.

It’s down to the box. One group strikes out their numbers and count again. They read each number to the supervisor, who responds “correct.” It’s the same numbers as the original vote count.

At 12:13 p.m., all the boxes are closed and workers loop bright yellow zip ties through each one. Elections’ Assistant Elections Manager Jerelyn Hampton comes to the two candidates with the results. In King County, the original results had Henderson as the winner with 159 votes.

The recount found no variances, she tells the candidates. On to the Snohomish County recount, which both Henderson and Thompson plan to observe.

“The more people who observe the process,” Hampton says, “the better we all are.”