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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Joe Kent plans to pay for recount in 3rd Congressional District race

Republican lost by more than 2,000 votes, meaning no recount was triggered under Washington law

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: November 30, 2022, 9:16am

Republican Joe Kent’s campaign says it will pay for an official recount of ballots in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District race, which he lost to Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez.

“We will be filing for an official recount in the next 24-48 hours to fight for our voters (and) for every legal vote to be counted,” Kent announced on multiple campaign accounts late Tuesday evening. “The fight continues!”

Despite Kent’s proclaimed intention, he must wait to file within two days after Washington’s secretary of state verifies the results. That won’t occur until approximately Dec. 8.

Counties’ final round of ballot tallies Tuesday showed Perez, D-Stevenson, received 160,314 votes, or 50.14 percent, while Kent received 157,685 votes, or 49.31 percent. This left a margin of 2,629 votes, or 0.83 percent — enough to avoid an automatic recount, which occurs only if the difference is less than 0.5 percentage point and fewer than 2,000 votes.

Candidates such as Kent can opt to purchase a recount from the secretary of state’s office, which doesn’t come at a small expense. The Legislature established a security deposit of 25 cents per ballot for a hand recount, which amounts to $79,939.75 for the 319,759 ballots cast in the 3rd District race, or 15 cents per ballot for a machine recount, which amounts to $47,963.85.

The actual fee may be less. Canvassing boards determine the expense of conducting a recount, which would be deducted from a candidate’s security deposit or, potentially, added to the balance due if costs exceed the deposit. Furthermore, candidates can request to recount all or just a portion of ballots cast, something Kent must decide.

A recount will be scheduled once Kent officially requests one, and the time frame to complete the process would depend on the number of ballots counted and the method used to do so. The Kent campaign did not respond to The Columbian’s request for comment on what approach he favors.

Observers appointed by political parties, the candidates or their representatives can watch the recount but cannot “disrupt the process,” according to the secretary of state’s office.

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It is unlikely for vote totals to change significantly after counties certify their results, but recounts may slightly affect these numbers, according to Derrick Nunnally, deputy director of external affairs in the secretary of state’s office. Results cannot be recertified more than twice.

Meanwhile, Perez’s team had this to say Wednesday: “The election is over, and Joe Kent lost. He should think long and hard before he wastes the time of elections staff during the holiday season.”

Gregoire vs. Rossi

Kent isn’t the first candidate in Washington to contest a race through official means.

In 2004, an intense gubernatorial race between former Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi and then-Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire resulted in a mess of allegations of fraud, court cases and public outcry. It also featured various recounts.

Initial results showed Rossi defeating Gregoire by 261 votes out of around 3 million ballots cast, which resulted in a legally required recount — resulting in Rossi’s lead dropping to 42 votes. In a first for Washington, the state Democratic Party then requested a hand recount, revealing hundreds of missing ballots and throwing Gregoire into the lead, albeit by a slim margin.

Rather than concede, Rossi alleged that the election was amiss. He said it wasn’t a “clean election” as Republicans remained leery of the state’s counting process, which resulted in multiple lawsuits. Another recount ensued, solidifying Gregoire’s victory and forcing Rossi to drop his challenge.

This fiercely disputed race was the first — but not only — example of an unexpected reversal in state election outcomes.

Washington has conducted more than 120 mandatory recounts in both primary and general elections since 2007. Only six resulted in a different outcome than what original results indicated, according to the secretary of state’s office. Out of those six recounts, three were for precinct committee officer races that each had less than 140 total votes cast.

Government office elections that flipped because of recounts include a Brier city council race in which a one-vote margin grew to three-vote lead, a 2017 Wapato mayor’s race that contested six ballots and led to a two-vote deficit, and a 2015 Richland school board race that was decided by a coin toss.

For more information about Washington’s recount procedures, visit RCW Chapter 29A.64 on the Washington secretary of state website.

Columbian staff writer