Benton wins Senate race by 74 votes

Before this week's recount, he had 78-vote lead over Probst

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

Updated: December 5, 2012, 11:55 AM

 

Republican state Sen. Don Benton has won his bid for re-election by just 74 votes, according to the outcome of a hand recount performed Wednesday morning by the Clark County Elections Department.

“It is terrific to finally be certain that I will have the privilege of serving the people of the 17th District Senate for another four years,” Benton said in a news release. “It’s exciting to know I will have the honor of returning to the capitol to continue as a voice for the taxpayers and play a key role in carrying out their wishes.”

On election night, Benton’s Democratic challenger, Tim Probst, had a 222-vote lead. As ballots continued to be counted after Election Day, Benton captured a lead. Heading into the recount, he had a 78-vote lead over Probst, which is a margin of just one-fourteenth of a percentage point.

According to the unofficial recount results, 27,542 ballots in the 17th District contained votes for Benton while 27,468 ballots contained votes for Probst. Nine ballots are still under review, but they cannot possibly change the outcome of the race, Clark County Elections Supervisor Tim Likness said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Probst conceded and congratulated Benton on his victory.

“I made my motto: ‘Do the right thing, and let the chips fall where they may,’ and I’ve lived by that,” Probst said in a statement. “I encourage all of our elected officials and our citizens to unify around what’s best for the state and the nation, and avoid dividing into splinter groups focused on their own self interests.”

Probst, who currently serves in the state House of Representatives, said that no matter what he does next, he hopes to focus on the same goals he’s had in the Legislature. Probst was elected to the House in 2010, and he decided to run against Benton rather than seek re-election.

“Going forward, I hope to find a way to continue doing what I’ve done throughout my career, in both elected an non-elected roles: build economic recovery, expand the middle class, reduce poverty, and make Washington the best-educated place in the world,” Probst said.

Democrats' majority narrows

Republicans hope Benton’s win will help them gain more control in the Senate.

This year, Democrats were the majority party in the state Senate, 27-22. A Benton win means the Democrats will have only a 26-23 majority for the 2013 legislative session.

Because there are a couple of philosophically conservative Democrats in the Senate, Republicans are hoping they can gain at least a philosophical majority and force a power-sharing arrangement that would elevate Republicans to more powerful positions. Republicans employed a similar strategy during the budget debate earlier this year, when a few Democrats sided with Republicans and helped them advance an alternative spending plan.

“The Senate may again find itself led by a bipartisan group — a ‘coalition majority’ that will take a more conservative approach to the way tax dollars are spent,” Benton said. “I have stayed in regular communication with my (Democratic) colleagues since they joined our efforts earlier this year and am encouraged by the prospect of working more with them in the upcoming session.”

Benton was first elected to the Senate in 1996. He will be sworn in to his fifth term next month, when the Legislature convenes.

A recount is required for races in which less than 2,000 votes and less than half a percentage point separate the candidates. That recount must be done by hand if fewer than 150 votes and less than a quarter of a percentage point separate the candidates.

A recount for the 17th District House race between Democrat Monica Stonier and Republican Julie Olson will begin today and is likely to conclude Friday Likness said. Official election results showed Stonier with a 139-vote lead over Olson.

A little more than one quarter of a percentage point separates Stonier and Olson. Election officials decided to hand recount this race, too, because their equipment prohibits them from feeding the ballots through a second time.

Stonier has declined to declare victory in the race out of respect for Olson.

Results from both recounts will be certified by election officials at 4 p.m. Friday, but certification is not expected to change the outcome of the recounts, Likness said. The meeting to certify the results is open to the public and takes place at the Clark County Elections Department, 1408 Franklin St. in Vancouver.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics.