Walla Walla Voters in Tuesday's primary election appear to have selected Scott Wolfram to be the new Walla Walla County Superior Court judge.
Wolfram amassed 4,015 votes of the total counted Tuesday evening, surpassing his opponent Richard Wernette's tally of 3,356.
The split resulted in 54.47 percent favoring Wolfram to 45.53 percent for Wernette.
The County Auditor's Office still has about 2,600 ballots on hand yet to count, in addition to an anticipated 1,600-2,500 collected from boxes Tuesday night and expected to be received in incoming mail today and later this week, Auditor Karen Martin said this morning.
To overcome Wolfram's advantage, Wernette would need -- if the maximum estimate of 5,100 remaining ballots is accurate -- almost 57 percent of the remaining votes to pull out the win.
The next ballot count will be Thursday afternoon. The winner of the judicial election -- which will be certified by Aug. 21 -- will replace retiring Judge Donald W. Schacht on Jan. 14.
Wolfram currently has 659 votes more than Wernette, a lead that appears insurmountable based on the statistical trend expected to continue in the counting of the remaining ballots.
"It's not impossible, but probably not likely for that to change," Martin said. "It's going to have to be a pretty substantial turnaround to make a difference."
In interviews this morning, both candidates wanted to hold off making final statements, although Wernette acknowledged he probably will lose.
"It is unlikely I'm going to make up that difference when the final votes are counted. But I do want to respect the uncounted votes and want to wait until Thursday's count to make a final comment on the election," he said.
Wolfram also said today he would wait. But the apparent victor added, "I'm pretty appreciative of the support and encouragement, and it will be an honor to follow Judge Schacht to the bench."
Wolfram, 57, had been hoping for a win based on his experience as a Superior Court commissioner, having filled in for the two elected judges for nearly 10 years during times they were away. He believes more community involvement than Wernette will be the factor that puts him over the top.
Wernette, 52, emphasized during the campaign his commitment to a safer community and his lengthy courtroom experience as reasons he is better qualified.
He said this morning it's too early even to contemplate another run for a Superior Court judicial post. He was defeated four years ago by John Lohrmann, currently the county's other Superior Court judge, who won re-election Tuesday in an uncontested race.
Wernette and Martin expressed disappointment in the voter turnout, which currently stands at about 30 percent including ballots on hand yet to count.
Both pointed out that important races and issues are being decided by relatively few voters.
"(Turnout) is extraordinarily low," Wernette said.