Small ballot count keeps tight races in doubt

Crosscut archive image.

To the displeasure of candidates and reporters alike, the elections for Seattle City Council have entered the excruciatingly slow stage of wading through the abused and neglected ballots. As a result, Monday’s small count of ballots left edge-of-the-seat races in Districts 1 and 2 in limbo.

The races will likely remain that way until at least Thursday. There will be a new count on Tuesday, but none on Wednesday, the Veterans Day holiday.

There's good reason that the races had left everyone anxious for a larger, more definitive count Monday. At the closing bell last Friday, District 1 candidate Shannon Braddock clung to a miniscule 104-vote lead over Lisa Herbold. That narrow margin was a fraction of the larger lead she held on Election Night in the West Seattle race. As some predicted, the late-arriving ballots tilted left and have consistently favored Herbold and with every new drop, the longtime aide to Councilmember Nick Licata has gained ground.

The story has been similar in South Seattle’s District 2. Bruce Harrell held a 5.5 percentage point lead Election Night, a margin that has shrunk to just 2-percentage points. On Friday, he was ahead by a little less than 400 votes.

With roughly 3,800 ballots left to be counted in District 1, Herbold actually became the favorite to win after last Friday’s count. She only needs about 52 percent of the remaining to beat Braddock, a number she’s achieved easily since Election Night.

For Morales, the task is a little taller. As of Friday, she needed 57 percent of the remaining 2,700 ballots in District 2, a number she had touched in one of the two counts on Friday, but had not achieved consistently.

Monday’s drop was a little strange, both in how few ballots were counted and in how the numbers bucked the trends from the week before. Herbold gained slight ground, but pulled in only 51 percent of the 429 votes counted in her district. Although the sample size is small, her numbers fell short of what she’d need to overtake Braddock.

Morales actually went the opposite direction, getting only 46 percent of the 339 votes counted in District 2, padding Harrell’s small lead to 401 votes.

“Today was pretty good for more conservative votes across the board,” said political analyst and Crosscut contributor Ben Anderstone.

Plus, there is bad news for people who hunger for faster results: The counting isn’t likely to speed up too much in the next few days. According to Kim van Ekstrom, King County Elections' communication manager, workers have entered the stage of counting the faulty ballots. These are the bent, unsealed, unsigned, poorly signed or faxed ballots that do not pass easily through the county’s system of counting. “When we get through the first big counts we make those as large as we can to hopefully get enough spread so we can call the races,” said van Ekstrom. “All the ballots that require more handling take a lot longer to process.”

So what does this mean going forward? The notion that late ballots tilt left is connected to the apparent fact that more liberal voters send in their ballots later. But it seems like Monday’s ballots are being counted late because of the ballots themselves, not necessarily the patterns of the people filling them out.

And yet, says Anderstone, these last rounds of counting historically tilt even further left. “It’s weird because the poorly marked ballots should be pretty representative,” he said. “All the ballots from here on out should be really randomly tasked.” While that seems to be the case today, Anderstone said, don’t take it as a sign that the leftward lean has been straightened out.

If the left-bias indeed continues, Herbold still looks to be in a decent position to overtake Braddock. She only needs 51.6 or 51.7 percent of the remaining vote, depending on how many are ultimately verified. Morales, on the other hand, needs to take about 58 percent of what’s left in her district. She’s only done that once. Every day she fails to hit 58 percent – like today – the percent she needs gets a little bigger. Anderstone said she’s certainly not finished, but Harrell remains the favorite.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.