West Seattle council race turns into a cliff-hanger

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Lisa Herbold talks to a reporter on Election Night, when she was figuring she had lost.

West Seattle and South Park residents may have to wait another two weeks to learn who their next Seattle City Council representative will be. While they may be content to wait, the candidates, Lisa Herbold and Shannon Braddock, are anxious and drained, as the counting of ballots has dragged out without a clear winner.

At the end of a long campaign, everyone is just hoping to know on Election Night whether they won or lost, says Braddock campaign consultant Christian Sinderman. Instead, it's coming up on three weeks since the election with no clear winner yet. It's the only race that remains undecided in King County.

On Tuesday, the county is supposed to certify the results from the November 3 general election, but the only action likely to happen in the race for the city council's District 1 seat is an announcement of an automatic recount.

As of Friday afternoon, Herbold led by 32 votes out of more than 25,000 that had been cast. There will be another count Monday, but it's almost certain that the county will have to conduct a recount, either by machine or by hand. Herbold has 49.74 percent to Braddock's 49.61, meaning the race currently meets the standard for a hand recount — a margin of 0.25 percent or less. A machine recount is automatic when the margin is 0.5 percent or less.

This is the first try for an elected post for Herbold and Braddock, both of whom have been involved in local government — Herbold as a city council staffer and Braddock as a King County Council aide.

The candidates got a taste this summer of the drawn-out counts possible under Washington state's mail-in voting system, which allows ballots to count as long as they are postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day. In the August primary, they emerged from a field of nine candidates but it took days of counting before it was clear that Herbold had more votes than Braddock.

Still, on Nov. 3, both candidates seemed to think that the first batch of results was conclusive: Braddock led by about 6.5 percentage points, with 52.9 percent of the vote.

While Braddock stopped short of proclaiming victory, she told Crosscut that night, "It is close but I feel comfortable about where we are." She added, however, that she would be checking results every day at 4:30 p.m., when the county releases new vote totals.

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Shannon Braddock Credit: Braddock campaign

Herbold, at her election night party, got up to speak almost as soon as her supporters saw the discouraging results flash on a screen. She thanked everyone, talked about the strong support she had received. Striking one note of hope, she pointed out that her support had grown through the primary vote counting, saying, "Late votes tend to be progressive."

While the candidates held largely similar stances on the issues, Herbold had the endorsement of the left-leaning Stranger.

Still, Herbold was just a bit subdued as she visited with friends and supporters. They told her to wait and see what later counts would show, and not to worry about "doing the math," she said last week. But, internally, she thought she had come up short. She had calculated that she had to be within 4.5 percentage points of Braddock to have a chance — she was two points farther back.

It wasn't until late in the week that it began to look like Herbold was picking up enough votes to have a small but real chance. The trend picked up some steam, with Herbold edging ahead for the first time on Friday, Nov. 13.

Braddock's consultant, Sinderman, said last week that the campaign was continuing to do everything it could to make sure that questioned ballots — with issues such as unclear markings or a hard-to-verify signature — are counted, particularly if they are from areas where Braddock is doing well. But, he said, "It is an uphill battle."

Having worked with Sen. Maria Cantwell and Gov. Christine Gregoire in some of the state's most famously extended vote counts, Sinderman knows how hard a long wait for the results can be. There is a desire for closure, but instead the candidates are on a roller coaster.

"There is too much time for self-reflection and second-guessing of yourself, and all the other emotions," Sinderman said.

Herbold understands what he is talking about. She says she has been thinking about the scattered days during the months of campaigning where she took a day off from her daily door-belling at voters' homes. She promised herself she would double down the next day but never quite made up for the lost time. She wishes she had stopped by a dog park with fliers about her support for off-leash areas.

The second-guessing doesn't stop with Election Day, either. Stressed by the count, she says, "I'm kind of kicking myself for not being as stoic as I would like to be." She finds herself getting aches and pains. And family and friends are on the same roller coaster.

Herbold's 6-year-old grandson greeted her the other day with a question about whether she was still winning. A Facebook posting by a friend of her mother in Pennsylvania made her realize that there is a network of people around the country checking the King County website at 4:30 on weekday afternoons, when the counts are updated. "My husband's nerves are shot," she says.

There is, though, one way the wait could be a lot worse: if she and Braddock had been bitterly opposed, instead of having a "friendly and cordial" campaign.

"The only consolation," Herbold says, "is knowing that there is another woman in West Seattle who is going through the same thing that you are."

Herbold had heard that a recount should be done by the end of the week after Thanksgiving. Actually, according to King County Elections' Nancy Sandifer, the count could go a little longer, into the week of Dec. 7.

Hearing that, Herbold seems to hesitate but then says the main thing is knowing there will be an end point. Sometime.

  

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About the Authors & Contributors

Joe Copeland

Joe Copeland

Joe Copeland is the former senior editor at Crosscut.