Top three primary candidates within 8 votes in final tally

By Marcy Stamper

In a razor-thin primary election contest, Okanogan County incumbent Commissioner Sheilah Kennedy squeaked by with one more vote than challenger Chris Branch, whom she will face in the November general election. Kennedy received 615 votes and Branch got 614.

While 2,274 people cast votes for District 1 commissioner, the top-three vote-getters were all within eight votes of one another. Larry Schreckengast, who came in third with 607 votes, trailed Branch by only seven votes. Branch is the community development director for Oroville.

Only Ted Reinbold was far behind the others with 438 votes.

County election officials certified the primary election on Tuesday (Aug. 16) after counting and validating 59 additional ballots countywide over the past week. Twenty-one of those ballots contributed to the tightly packed outcome in District 1.

“It’s flipped back and forth a few times” as new ballots were counted, said Mila Jury, the county’s election supervisor. Since last week’s tally, Kennedy picked up two votes, Branch got five, Schreckengast got eight, and Reinbold got six.

Despite the strikingly close results, the numbers are just outside the threshold that would require an automatic recount. In a primary election, with the top two candidates both going on to the general election, state law prescribes a recount only if the difference between the second and third vote-getters is less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the total votes those two candidates received. If Branch and Schreckengast had been six votes apart — instead of seven — a recount would have been necessary.

A candidate can request a recount but would have to pay for staff time and materials, said Jury. The ballots, which are bundled in batches of 25 based on when they came in, are not broken out by district, said Jury, who estimated it would take two days just to locate the relevant ballots.

The task for elections staff and the county’s canvassing board over the past week was to process questionable ballots. In some cases, they had to determine voter intent — for example, if a voter marked a ballot in an unorthodox manner, such as with a checkmark instead of filling in the box next to a candidate’s name. The state has detailed rules to determine which such ballots are valid.

In other instances, staff contacted voters whose signature didn’t match or who had not signed their ballot. Sometimes a signature on file has not been updated for years, although the signature has changed as a person ages, said Jury. In other cases, a voter may have an injury that affects his or her writing. Some outstanding ballots had been postmarked too late and some envelopes were empty.

When all was said and done, voter turnout for all races in the county was 43 percent, better than the state average, which was below 35 percent. Thirteen of the state’s 39 counties had a turnout above 40 percent.

In the race for District 2 commissioner, the seat currently held by Ray Campbell, Andy Hover, with 1,458 votes (40 percent), will face Ashley Thrasher, who got 1,227 votes (38 percent). Campbell got 764 votes (21 percent) and Stan Kvistad got 192 votes (5 percent).

All voters in the entire county vote for both commissioners’ districts in the general election.

People have until Oct. 10 to register online or by mail for the Nov. 8 general election. People can register in person through Oct. 31. Search for Washington voter registration for more information.

The state will certify the primary election on Friday (August 19).