Seeking 'cure' for close election contests

Campaigns reach out to voters with contested ballots

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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For most political candidates, campaigning ends on election night. That hasn't been the case, however, for the four 17th District legislative candidates still locked in unresolved races.

Campaigns are now reaching out to voters with contested ballots to make sure they go through the ballot rehabilitation process, also known as "curing" their vote. They're also keeping an eager eye on the Clark County Elections Department.

More than 1,500 ballots from across Clark County haven't been tallied by election officials because they either lack a signature, or because the signature on the ballot doesn't match the signature election officials have on file, Clark County Elections Supervisor Tim Likness said. Two races in the 17th District are currently 105 votes apart, so curing those remaining ballots could make all the difference, he added.

The outcome of the unusually close 17th District Senate race between Republican incumbent Don Benton and his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, is being followed avidly by political parties at the state level, because it could impact the power balance in the Legislature.

Currently, Democrats hold a 27-22 majority in the Senate. If Benton wins, that Democratic majority would be knocked down to 26-23. There are also a couple of philosophically conservative Democrats in the Senate who could tip that balance by siding with Republicans on certain political issues.

The elections department has become inundated with questions from the state parties and from local campaigns in the county's 17th Legislative District, Likness said.

"We get a lot of questions from both sides," he said, including: "'Which ballots are being processed? When are you going to count again? How many ballots are left?' … We try to answer those the best we can."

In the days following the Nov. 6 election, local campaigns have obtained a daily list from county election officials that reveals whose ballots have been challenged. It's part of a public information request many campaigns made earlier this year; for a $50 fee, they get updated information on which registered voters have sent in their ballots.

"They'll get copies of these lists on a daily basis," Likness said. "They start doing a lot of follow-up work contacting these people."

It's not the only way voters are notified about a challenged ballot. The county sends notifications through the mail, and voters have until Nov. 26 to re-submit a signature for verification.

"We'll probably get the last of those letters out today," Likness said by phone on Thursday. "Everybody will be notified."

Voters with challenged ballots don't get to vote again, Likness said, stressing that "the ballots are here and they don't leave our office."

Democrats and Republicans also employ elections observers who can watch over the ballot-counting process.

The race to fill the open 17th District House seat currently held by Probst is also too close to call. Democrat Monica Stonier and Republican Julie Olson are vying for a seat in a chamber with a 56-42 Democratic majority.

Probst's campaign manager, Morgan McClincy, said campaign workers have been sent out to try to contact voters with challenged ballots. They provide voters with an official ballot-curing form.

"Most people are aware that these races are really close, and they want to be sure their vote will count," McClincy said.

Meanwhile, the Benton campaign will be working this weekend to cure ballots, according to an email sent out by Republican campaigner Kurtis Williams.

"We're trying to coordinate some volunteers for Don Benton and Julie Olson," Williams wrote. "Their races are really close, and we're trying to rehabilitate ballots that have missing or suspicious signatures. The more people, the (quicker) it can go."

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