Costliest state election reaches finale

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OLYMPIA — Washington state’s most expensive election year in history neared its grand finale today, with voters deciding who to choose in one of the country’s most competitive governor’s races and whether to legalize marijuana and gay marriage — two initiatives that have been backed by big money and names.

The gubernatorial contest has drawn national attention from both parties, with Republicans seeking to win the leadership post for the first time in 32 years. The race remained too close to call, with one recent poll showing Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee in a tie.

The breadth of contentious issues and races on Washington’s ballot has led to a flood of cash totaling some $157 million — about 20 percent more than the 2008 elections. That includes some $40 million spent on the governor’s race.

The effort to legalize gay marriage has drawn six-figure donations from the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, and from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And Bill Gates and fellow Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who both live in the Seattle area, have combined to contribute some $4.5 million to an effort seeking to develop charter schools in the state.

An initiative to legalize marijuana also has drawn high-profile support, with a $250,000 from travel guru Rick Steves and more than $1.5 million from Progressive Insurance chairman Peter Lewis.

Most of the country will know who won major races Tuesday night, but there’s a decent chance Washington residents won’t learn who ultimately prevailed in close races like the gubernatorial contest for days. That’s because mail-in ballots in the state only have to be sent by Nov. 6. Hundreds of thousands of ballots will remain to be counted after tonight.

In the gay marriage referendum, voters will decide whether to uphold a law approved by the Legislature and Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this year. Washington is one of three states — Maryland and Maine are the others — in which voters are deciding whether to legalize same-sex marriage.

Washington also is one of three states, along with Oregon and Colorado, in which voters are considering whether to approve marijuana for recreational use. The measure would set up a system of licensed marijuana growers, processors and retail stores — and supporters have been touting the potential tax benefits of placing the industry under state control.

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