Studen leads tight race for Twisp council
By Natalie Johnson and Marcy Stamper
Winthrop Mayor Sally Ranzau has a commanding lead after an enthusiastic, though last-minute write-in challenge from business owner Seth Miles in the Nov. 2 general election.
After a second round of votes were counted and the new totals released Friday (Nov. 5) by the Okanogan County Auditor’s Office, Ranzau was leading with 133 votes to 79 for write-ins, leading with 62.7% of the vote.
“I’m very excited and energized. I’m ready for another four years,” Ranzau said Monday. “Thank you to the citizens of Winthrop for having faith in me.”
Ranzau said she’s eager to continue ongoing projects at the town.
Miles said he was disappointed with the vote count Monday, but was waiting to see the final vote count, due out Nov. 23.
“It tells me not everyone’s happy with the current direction of town and I feel that energy from them,” he said about the vote.
Miles said he wasn’t planning on running for a town council position in an upcoming election.
“My concern is not so much with the current council; the council members are doing a good job,” he said.
Ranzau was one of several incumbents taking the lead in the Methow Valley’s handful of contested races in this year’s general election.
Twisp town council member Aaron Studen was only a handful of votes ahead of challenger Dara Perez after the first vote count, though his lead increased to 22 votes after the second batch of ballots was released.
The Methow Valley School District’s longtime board member Gary Marchbank has also secured his reelection, with 77.8% of the vote, over Michelle Randolf’s 21.6%.
About 35% of Okanogan County’s 25,836 registered voters cast ballots in the Nov. 2 election.
Nearly 10% of those voters cast their ballots at the last minute, said Okanogan County Chief Deputy Auditor and Election Supervisor Jamie Groomes.
On election night, results showed less than 25% turnout. Turnout for a non-presidential race year is typically between 30% and 35%, she said.
“[The] 24.4% on election night was really, really low, but then on Wednesday, the day after election day when we went and collected all the ballot drop boxes, it was amazing the turnout in those boxes,” she said.
Ballot drop boxes are locked at 8 p.m. election night, but not always emptied until the next day.
“That happens a lot actually, people wait until the last minute,” Groomes said. “I think the day after the election we got in 1,900 ballots.”
As of Friday, 969 ballots were left to count countywide. The vote count is set to be updated again on Wednesday (Nov. 10) and to be certified on Nov. 23.
Twisp Town Council
After the first votes came in on election day, only six votes separated incumbent Aaron Studen from challenger Dara Perez — Studen had 102 votes to Perez’s 96.
After another round of votes was counted Friday, Studen’s lead increased to 174 votes to Perez’s 152.
Although the race is still too close for a definitive outcome, Studen said if the results pan out, he looks forward to continuing to serve Twisp and to improving life for his constituents.
Studen is eager to continue working on improvements for the town, including recreational opportunities, infrastructure, and the civic building. “I’m really excited about the direction Twisp is heading,” Studen said.
Studen thanked all his supporters. He acknowledged that there was significant support for his challenger, Dara Perez, and said he will take into account that many people in town want change and a different direction.
“Town government is transparent by design,” Studen said, noting that he’s open to comments, suggestions, and criticism from the public. He encouraged people to get in touch if they have questions about town matters.
Perez credited Studen with being a worthy opponent and thanked him for his years of service and dedication to Twisp. Although there are still almost a thousand votes to be tabulated across the county, Perez said it seemed unlikely that it would be enough to overturn Studen’s 22-vote lead, almost a 7% advantage.
“Most important, I thank the voters for doing their part toward healthy elections & casting their vote,” she said in a written statement. She also thanked her friends and loved ones for their support and volunteer hours.
Listening to people’s concerns and seeing excitement return to the election season was a personal highlight, Perez said. “We need a variety of citizens staying engaged in our local governance,” she said.
While the race is close, it’s not within the threshold for a mandatory recount, Groomes said. Candidates must be within one half of 1% for the county to do a recount.
If a race is close but does not trigger a mandatory recount, a person can file a request for a recount within two business days of the election being certified. In that case, the person or group that requests the recount must pay for the work. Groomes said she’d seen had a requested, but not mandatory, recount in the county.
Katrina Auburn, who ran unopposed for Position 1 on the council, received 154 votes as of election day. On Friday, her count increased to 238.
Auburn will take over the position currently held by Hannah Cordes, who did not file for reelection.
Winthrop Town Council
The Winthrop Town Council had two council positions on the general election ballot, both of which had unopposed incumbent candidates.
Kirsten Vanderhalf received 112 votes and Joseph O’Driscoll received 116 as of election night. Their totals increased to 151 and 159 Friday.
As of election night, Ranzau had 96 votes, and write-in candidates received 54. After Friday’s vote count, Ranzau was leading 133 to 79, with 62% of the vote.
Methow Valley School District
In the Methow Valley School District, incumbent Gary L. Marchbank, of Winthrop, was challenged by Michelle Randolph of Mazama for the District 4 seat. Marchbank was well ahead after the first votes were tallied on election day, with 1,083 votes to Randolph’s 326, or 76.48% of the vote. Marchbank’s lead increased slightly to 77.8% after additional votes were counted.
Dana Stromberger ran unopposed for the second school district position on the ballot, for District 2, and received 1,049 votes. That increased to 1,574 Friday.
Marchbank was first elected to the school board in 2009 and was running for his fourth term.
Okanogan County Prosecuting Attorney Melanie Bailey ran unopposed and received 4,072 votes countywide as of election night and 5,824 Friday. Bailey was appointed in January 2021 to replace Arian Noma after he resigned. She will fill the remaining year of the term, and the position will be back on the ballot next year.
In Okanogan County Cemetery District 1, incumbent Teresa Mathis, of Winthrop, ran unopposed for commissioner Position 3 and received 639 votes. Also in District 1, incumbent commissioner for Position 2 Jennifer Northcott did not file for reelection. Timothy Anderson of Winthrop was the only candidate to file for the four remaining years in the unexpired term. He received 644 votes.
In Okanogan County Cemetery District 2 — one of the Methow’s few contested races — incumbent Carol J. Gaston, of Twisp, was challenged by Larry Smith, also of Twisp, for the regular six-year term.
As of election night, Gaston had a commanding lead of 471 to 119 votes, or 79% of votes cast. After Friday, her lead increased slightly to 80%.
In Okanogan-Douglas Hospital District 1, which governs Three Rivers Hospital, incumbents for Positions 1 and 2, David Garcia, of Brewster, and Leslie McNamara, also of Brewster, filed to retain their positions and ran unopposed. Garcia received 1,868 votes and McNamara received 1,892.
In Okanogan County Fire District 6, incumbent Les V. Stokes, of commissioner Position 1, did not file for reelection. Miles Milliken, of Twisp, ran unopposed for the six-year term and received 1,143 votes.