Port race stays close

Incumbent Michael Fredrickson leads by about 160 votes with more than 2,000 left to count.

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WALLA WALLA -- Port of Walla Walla District 2 Commissioner Mike Fredrickson's narrow lead over challenger Barlow Corkrum in initial election results Tuesday will likely hold as remaining ballots are counted, an election official said this morning.

Fredrickson led 4,900 votes to Corkrum's 4,741 after the first tally of more than 11,000 ballots Tuesday night. Another 2,085 ballots remained in the office Tuesday night, and will be boosted by ballots received today that are either postmarked from Tuesday or were dropped off at designated sites before 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Final results for the contentious race are expected Thursday.

Corkrum was not ready this morning to concede. Instead he said he wanted to acknowledge his supporters and all of those who helped with the campaign.

"There are still a lot of ballots to count," he said. "I look forward to seeing how it turns out."

Fredrickson, however, said he felt confident with the lead.

"The trend's set," he said. "I'm comfortable, but tomorrow will be telling."

Walla Walla County Auditor Karen Martin said she would be surprised if Corkrum could pull ahead, but it's not impossible.

"I can only go by experience, and the only race I can recall where tides changed was the governor's race in '04," Martin said, referring to the controversial outcome in the race between Gov. Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi.

The 159-vote spread would not be impossible for Corkrum to overcome, but Martin said it's not likely.

"Once a trend is set it usually stays that way," she said.

The tally brings finality to what developed as the community's most heated race. Port leadership and criticism of its internal operations -- from questions about the executive director's salary to the ethics of a recreational trip to his Phoenix condo -- were at the forefront.

Tuesday's election served as a rematch between Fredrickson and Corkrum from six years ago but with a different outcome -- Fredrickson won about 60 percent of the vote in the previous race.

He attributed the closer race this time around to stronger campaign efforts from Corkrum and an anti-incumbent sentiment he believes will continue into next year's state elections.

"There's a lot going on in these numbers," Fredrickson said. "He ran a lot more aggressive campaign and the anti-incumbency -- it looks to me like it caught some traction, but not enough when good ideas came out."

Fredrickson said he tried to focus during his campaign on ideas, accomplishments and a positive attitude.

Apart from the relatively narrow margin, Tuesday's results rendered another telling number.

According to the posting, 1,400 eligible voters who cast their ballots opted to not vote for Fredrickson or Corkrum.

Martin said the number of "undervotes" -- about 13 percent of ballots that included votes for other races -- seemed unusually high for a contested race.

She said there were several other races with significant undervotes, including a school board race in Dixie and another in Walla Walla. Those both had only one candidate each. A second school board race in Walla Walla also had a high number of undervotes at 1,280. That race was between incumbent Max Carrera and challenger Veronica Sandau.

Martin said voters may have opted to not cast their votes in that race or the Port race if they didn't believe they knew enough about the candidates or if they didn't approve of either option.

If the outcome of the Port race changes drastically or requires a recount, she said the undervotes would be more closely examined. "What we'd be looking for is anomalies," she said. An example would be if someone circled a candidate's name rather than filling in the oval on the form. "The tabulator itself does not catch that. It's only programmed to read those ovals."

She said an automatic recount would only take place if the difference between candidates is less than 2,000 votes and also less than one half of one percent of ballots.

Fredrickson said if the early results hold, one thing he'll take from the election headed into the next six-year term is Corkrum's suggestion that the Port could benefit from more committees. He said he likes the idea of forming a committee of general aviation pilots to provide suggestions for changes or improvements at the airport.

Beyond that, he said he doesn't know where the Port could benefit from other committees, he said. He also expects the public to continue to watch the agency more thoroughly for the time being.

"We're still going to be watched for a little while here," He said. " I think that's good. I'm not sure if there's anything we can do to be more transparent. To me that was just a sound bite."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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