By BARBARA AMES
and LARRY BEHRENDT
This year’s election for Island County Assessor was one of the closest races in county history. The initial certified results gave candidate Kelly Mauck an 11-vote lead over his opponent T.J. Kubisiak. With a result this close, state law required a hand recount of all 43,368 ballots cast in this election. The recount took the better part of five days and was completed last Friday. We were there in the Elections Office as the candidates’ representatives to observe all that went on.
The recount was performed by more than a dozen workers, most of them retirees who work part-time for the Elections Office for minimum wage. Their effort began with the sorting of the 43,000+ ballots into separate stacks for each of the 90 precincts in Island County. Once sorted, each precinct’s ballots were counted and recounted to verify that each stack had the same number of ballots as in the earlier certified machine count. The office then proceeded to count the votes and recount them, precinct by precinct. The crew counted votes separately in teams of two. No precinct’s count was complete unless the totals counted by each team member were the same.
At the end of this re-examination and recount, Mr. Mauck gained four votes and Mr. Kubisiak three. In each case where the recount results differed from the one originally certified, the Elections Office was able to determine the reason for the difference. There were a few ballots where the elections workers were able to detect a vote that the county’s scanning machines had missed — sometimes because a voter had marked the ballot in an unconventional way or had used an odd ink color that the scanner could not read. In a couple of cases, the voter had voted for Mr. Mauck or Kubisiak as a write-in candidate, instead of marking the box next to the candidate’s name.
We left the Elections Office on Friday having learned three lessons we need to share. First: Island County has the best elections office in the country. Certainly, no other office could be better. We want to praise in particular the work of our part-time elections staff. They are each remarkable people who we got to know a little. They worked solely to count your votes in the way you intended. Their work is grueling and often tedious, but it’s the kind of work that makes our democracy possible. They deserve our gratitude, and their collective effort deserves our trust.
Second, many of us might assume that the process of verifying and counting votes is a simple one that can be completed shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Day. That assumption is incorrect. Counting votes accurately requires due care, takes time and requires considerable skill and dedication. The folks running our Elections Office are experts, and we should respect their expertise.
Final lesson: We can trust the numbers that come out of our Elections Office. They are astonishingly accurate. We can only hope the cars we drive are manufactured with comparable precision.
We are thankful we were able to witness such a remarkable exercise of democracy in action.
Barbara Armes was the official recount observer for assessor candidate T.J. Kubisiak and Larry Behrendt was the official observer for winning candidate Kelly Mauck.