The state Senate race for the 5th Legislative District seat attracted millions of dollars and nearly 100,000 voters, but more than three weeks after Election Day, just 57 ballots separate the two candidates — and the contest still doesn’t have a winner.
Incumbent Sen. Mark Mullet has about five dozen votes over Ingrid Anderson in the race to represent East King County, according to results that were certified Tuesday by King County Elections. The razor-thin difference triggers an automatic hand recount, which will begin Tuesday morning at the agency’s headquarters in Renton.
The race between the two Democrats will be the first King County race for a state Senate or House or Representatives seat in eight years to require any sort of recount, and the first in at least 16 years to require a hand recount, according to King County Elections data.
Mullet, an Issaquah business owner, and Anderson, an Overlake Hospital psychiatric department nurse, gained votes over the weekend through “ballot chasing.” In close elections, campaign teams contact voters in the district whose ballots were challenged, and provide help, such as returning the required challenge forms to the elections office, so their ballots are counted.
Both candidates were optimistic last week as they worked to find additional ballots, but Anderson on Friday was skeptical that she would prevail after the recount. She said she knew the race would be close, but didn’t expect it to be this close.
“I believe King County has an exceptional system for counting votes, and I don’t think enough will change to alter the results of the final election,” said Anderson, who lives outside Snoqualmie.
Meanwhile, Mullet said he wasn’t nervous about the recount and didn’t expect it to change the outcome by more than a few votes. On his Facebook page, he thanked his supporters and wrote he is “grateful and look forward to continuing to work for all residents” of the district.
The race is the only one in King County that will require a recount. In Washington state, nail biter races automatically trigger a recount, either by a machine or manually, depending on how close the race is. Races with a gap of fewer than 2,000 votes and a 0.5% difference in total votes come down to a machine recount. Races with a difference of fewer than 150 votes and a .25% difference in total votes necessitate a hand recount.
Hand recounts involve a 15-step process that can take days. In teams, two people each look at a ballot, both say the chosen candidate’s name aloud, then the ballot is placed in the candidate’s pile. When they are finished counting, both count each of the five piles (one for each candidate, one for a write-in candidate, one for both candidates marked and one for neither marked), then trade the stacks. They set aside any ballots that aren’t filled in correctly or have a line through them for further examination.
Representatives from both campaigns are allowed to observe the recount.
The most recent recount for a state lawmaker race in King County in a general election was in 2012, between Bud Sizemore and incumbent Mark Hargrove for the state House District 47 Position 1 seat. The machine recount found an additional vote for Hargrove and one extra write-in vote. Hargrove won by 158 votes.