Election leaders maintain their edge

With only about 5,000 ballots left to be counted Friday afternoon, elections in Island County wrapped up with vote margins closing on a series of tight races, and all but one incumbent apparently being bumped from office.

In all but one race, winners were Democrats, which bucks the national trend for an historic election in which Republicans gained majority control of the House and the Senate.

Though a final tally won’t be completed and certified until next week, it appears that the early results of local races will hold, with Democrat write-in challenger Sharon Franzen defeating Jane Koetje for Island County Clerk, Democrat Linda Riffe beating incumbent treasurer Maxine Sauter, Republican challenger Bill Byrd edging out incumbent Democrat County Commissioner Bill Thorn, and Democrat Prosecutor Greg Banks fending off lame-duck Republican Kelly Barlean.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Franzen, who mounted a grass-roots campaign for the clerk’s position after being dismissed as deputy clerk by Koetje in mid August. Over the course of this week’s ballot counting, Franzen held to a steady 650 vote lead, finishing Friday with 10,524 votes to Koetje’s 9876.

Thorn has steadily narrowed the gap on Byrd’s initial lead, though time is running short on the Democratic incumbent. Wednesday morning, Thorn was trailing by only 432 votes; by Friday, that margin had narrowed to 329, with Thorn totalling 9,757 to Byrd’s 10,086.

Between Tuesday and Friday afternoon, 3,399 more ballots had been counted; in that time, Thorn has closed the gap by 103 votes. At this rate, he’s averaged to gain about 165 votes by the time the remaining ballots are counted — not quite enough to overtake Byrd.

Thorn, who won his race for commissioner four years ago by a 38-vote margin over then-incumbent Tom Shaughnessy, said Thursday that Byrd’s lead is not guaranteed to hold.

“Historically, they’ve been close,” Thorn said of elections in his district, which includes Camano Island and Whidbey north of Oak Harbor. “I didn’t expect this to be any different,” he added.

More decisive is Banks’ growing lead over Barlean. Since Wednesday morning, the gap has increased from 1,559 votes to nearly 2,000 for Banks by Friday. At last count, the tally was 11,183 to 9,262.

With the vote margin increasing since election night, Banks said Thursday he’s confident of retaining his job as county prosecutor.

“I’ve learned that in elections, the best you can do is guess,” Banks said.

Riffe, a local school administrator, has maintained a fairly safe lead over incumbent treasurer Sauter. After a feisty campaign in which Riffe criticized Sauter’s management of her office — especially in light of a series of state auditor reports questioning the treasurer’s lack of financial controls — it appears voters were convinced that a change was necessary.

By Friday, Riffe’s lead had increased by about 400 votes over initial results; the final count at the end of the week had Sauter trailing with 9,387 votes to Riffe’s 11,138.

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