The near-deadlocked council race between 70-year-old Woodland political newcomers Scott Perry and Robert Ripp could be headed for the most American of tiebreakers: a coin toss.
Ripp, a retired repairman, led Perry, a retired real estate broker, by 21 votes following the Nov. 8 election night vote counts in Clark and Cowlitz counties. Perry has since edged past Ripp by two votes, 653-651.
The winner is scheduled to be sworn in Nov. 29. An automatic recount would take place in the days after the certification, according to elections officials, should the race be decided by less than a quarter of a percentage point, or 150 votes, which appears likely.
If the two men are tied after the recount, a coin flip would determine who wins the four-year term, in accordance with state law. The coin flip would take place in Cowlitz County because that is where the majority of the race’s votes were cast, said Tim Likness, Clark County’s elections coordinator.
“I didn’t know we were in Vegas,” Ripp joked, describing his reaction to learning about the potential for a coin flip.
Perry, for his part, said he was not “buying drinks” yet to celebrate.
Perry and Ripp’s duel is not the only area race too close to call.
In Washougal, stay-at-home mother Caryn Plinski leads 19-year council veteran Rodney Morris by six votes, 1,495-1,489. The race seems destined for an automatic recount barring unforeseen circumstances.
Clark County has around 300 suspended ballots — those without a signature or with signatures that do not match, Likness said. The people who cast the votes have until 5 p.m. Nov. 28 to clarify their votes. Likness estimated that could mean nine or 10 additional votes in Washougal, or enough to sway the final outcome.
“I’m just waiting like everybody else,” Plinski said, noting she would be “excited to serve if I get elected.”
Her opponent, Morris, did not return a phone call for this story.
Candidates in local races who trail by more than a quarter of a percentage point, or 150 votes, can
request a recount, though they must cover its cost, according to state law. Likness said candidates deposit 25 cents per ballot cast, and the county charges them based on time and manpower used in recounting the vote. The only way candidates receive their full deposit back is if the recount changes the race’s outcome, Likness noted.
This provision could potentially apply to the Battle Ground council race between Shane Bowman and Deputy Mayor Phil Haberthur. Bowman leads by 115 votes, or nearly four percent, meaning Haberthur would have to request a recount.
So far, no candidates have requested a recount, Likness said. Haberthur did not return a phone call Wednesday.
Entering Tuesday, Perry and Ripp were tied with 515 votes. Additional votes counted in Cowlitz County gave Perry a slight lead. However, there are still nine suspended ballots and other not yet tabulated votes to be resolved in Woodland, said Carolyn Myers, Cowlitz County’s elections supervisor.
Elections officials are expected to next update their numbers Friday afternoon, she added.
Both Perry and Ripp said they could have done more to secure victory. They are vying to replace Aaron Christopherson, who relinquished his seat earlier this year.
Ripp regretted having viewed a general election victory as inevitable after tallying 55 percent of the primary vote. As a result, he did not campaign for the seat. He also missed the deadline to appear in the Cowlitz County voters’ pamphlet.
“I was lackluster because I figured I was a shoo-in,” said Ripp, a lifelong Woodland resident.
By contrast, Perry rued not mailing brochures or attempting some other publicity method prior to the general election. He would have done so, he said, had he realized he had a chance to win. He did, however, appear in the voters’ pamphlet.
Still, he’s not kicking himself too much. He is on the brink of winning the general election after garnering 33 percent of the primary vote.
“To be this close in the final (vote) is amazing,” said Perry, a longtime Ridgefield resident who moved to Woodland 10 years ago.