WALLA WALLA -- Port of Walla Walla Commissioner Mike Fredrickson held his lead over challenger Barlow Corkrum in a surprising ballot update Wednesday that resulted in no change whatsoever in the 49-vote distance between the two candidates.
An automatic recount appears nearly certain. State law calls for such a recount if the margin between the candidates is less than 0.5 percent of the total votes cast.
In this election, 15,960 votes have been counted, according to the county Elections Office website. County Auditor Karen Martin said today another 133 ballots remain to be counted and roughly 190 are unresolved and require further examination before the final count. If all 323 remaining ballots were figured in the count of total votes cast, the cutoff for an automatic recount would be 81.
Fredrickson maintained the slim lead over Corkrum after the latest wave of ballots were counted Wednesday afternoon, Martin said. The number of ballots counted was 334. The latest results gave Fredrickson 6,800 votes -- or 50.18 percent -- to Corkrum's 6,751 -- or 49.82 percent.
The remaining questionable ballots will need review by the county's Canvassing Board before they can be counted. Election results are slated for certification Nov. 29. The Canvassing Board will meet that night.
Even if all of the remaining ballots are counted, the outcome is not likely to change, Martin said.
Nevertheless, the latest count continued to surprise elections officials who have watched results of the contentious race for the Port Commission's District 2 seat evolve from merely close to neck-and-neck.
"I was just shocked," Martin said of the latest update.
The initial Election Day results posted just after 8 p.m. showed Fredrickson ahead of Corkrum by 159 votes. Thousands remained to be counted at the time. Fredrickson's lead was cut to 49 after the next tally of ballots last Thursday. Wednesday's count stumped elections officials, who expected to see the distance between the two candidates change at least a little.
"You'd think there'd be one or two votes different," Martin said.
She said exact numbers to trigger the recount will be based, in part, on whether voters with unresolved ballots respond to the Elections Office's queries in time.
She said the office has already resolved 133 ballots that had issues with signatures that were either not included to begin with or didn't match up to the voters' signatures on record.
Of the 190 ballots that remain unresolved, 58 were postmarked too late for the cutoff and will not be counted. Twenty-seven of those were mailed or dropped off either without the provided outer envelope that includes a spot for the voter's signature, with no postmark at all or with a ballot from another election. Thirty-three of 190 were submitted with no signature; and 72 had a signature that didn't match previous records.
Martin said the Elections Office has sent out letters to voters with unresolved ballots. Those who have received the letters have until 4 p.m. the day before the certification to respond. In the three-day period leading up to the Canvassing Board's meeting, officials will attempt to telephone voters who haven't responded.
The Canvassing Board, which includes Martin, the prosecuting attorney and a representative of the Walla Walla County Commission, will review the remaining questionable ballots in an attempt to verify signatures.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8321.