Recount Ordered in Washington

Washington State will recount its ballots in the U.S. Senate race, but state officials don’t expect a Florida-style fiasco.

Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro says it should be orderly and dull.

“We don’t have hanging chad or anything. That was taken care of before the count,” he said.

“It’s not very exciting. It’s kind of like watching grass grow.”

Munro ordered a recount today in the Senate race and one other statewide race with a margin of less than one-half percent, as required by state law.

Slim Lead for Cantwell

In the U.S. Senate race, Maria Cantwell, 42, a high-tech millionaire and Democrat, leads incumbent Republican Slade Gorton by 1,953 votes, or .08 percent.

Washington’s recount should not spark debates about dimpled ballots and voters’ intentions, Munro emphasized. No new ballots will be added during the recount and none will be thrown out — they’ll just be run through the machines again.

The recount should take about a week, said state Elections Director Gary McIntosh, although smaller counties may finish their recounts in a day. King and Pierce counties planned to start their recounts today, with the other counties starting later in the week.

County canvassing boards will administer the recount. Observers from both parties, the candidates and the public are allowed to watch.

Only 16 of Washington’s 39 counties use punchcard ballots. The rest use “optical scan” ballots in which voters mark circles with a pencil or pen to register their choices.

U.S. Senate Could Be Split

A win for Cantwell would put the U.S. Senate in a 50-50 tie, its first even split in a century. Under a George W. Bush presidency, his running mate, Dick Cheney, would break ties in the Senate. If Al Gore wins and Sen. Joe Lieberman becomes vice president, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland would appoint a Republican to fill the vacated seat, leaving the GOP with a 51-49 majority.

Another recount is due in the secretary of state race, where Republican Sam Reed holds a .46 percent lead over Democrat Don Bonker. Munro is retiring this year after 20 years in office.

Two state House races in the 47th District south of Seattle hinge on less than .3 percent of the vote, and face recounts by King County elections officials. Republican Jack Cairnes leads Democrat Debbie Jacobson, while Democrat Geoff Simpson is ahead of Republican Phil Fortunato. King County will handle those recounts.

Past recounts in Washington tend to affirm the initial tallies.

The most recent mandatory recount was in 1996, in the 3rd Congressional District. Republican Linda Smith initially led Democrat Brian Baird by 890 votes. The recount gave both a few more votes, and Smith’s margin of victory was 887.

Gorton is no stranger to the process. The last time Washington had a recount for a statewide office was 1968, when Gorton defeated Democrat John McCutcheon by 5,368 votes for attorney general.

The recounts must be finished by Dec. 7, the date by which state law says the secretary of state must certify the election results.

Candidates and parties can call for additional recounts, although state law prohibits counting the ballots more than twice. Whoever requests the recount has to pay for it, at 5 cents a ballot, but if the recount reverses the results they don’t have to pay.