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Ballot count tips toward Maxwell for state house seat | Race just shy of recount range; Republicans watching race ‘closely’

Democratic candidate and Renton resident Marcie Maxwell appears to have won the final seat in the state Legislature in a close race against current City Councilmember Steve Litzow.

The King County Canvassing Board was scheduled to certify the 2008 general election yesterday, after Reporter deadline. As of Saturday’s count, Litzow trailed his Democratic opponent by 667 votes, or 1.04 percent. The day before, Litzow was behind by 557 votes, only .87 percent.

The race was so close that it almost qualified for an automatic recount, and a local Republican leader said that she was concerned the county’s outdated tabulation machines could have affected the outcome.

In all, the race has a total of 64,033 votes. On Friday’s count, 67,526 total votes were in the race, which concerned Islander Lori Sotelo, chair of the King County Republicans. According to election officials, another reduced total count occurred on Thursday afternoon but these mistakes would not have happened if new vote-counting machines that the county wants to buy were certified by the federal government.

King County Election’s spokesperson, Bobby Egan, said that counts on Thursday afternoon did come in lower than the previous tally, and the county followed its contingency plan for such an event and restored the count.

“We immediately noticed [the decrease] and we always store a backup, so we restored the situation and remedied it right away,” said Egan. “The numbers are not supposed to decrease. They never have before. There’s nothing wrong with our database. This has everything to do with outdated technology, and it’s time the federal government certify the new equipment we hope to buy.”

Sotelo said that she was concerned with the King County Elections Department, as the trend in the daily counts showed gradual gains in Litzow’s favor as the lead slimmed during the past few weeks. Sotelo said that such computer problems may influence voting accuracy and affect the outcome of the race.

“That’s a very serious concern for us,” she said. “We are watching very carefully because this is a really, really close race.”

In addition to a potential recount due to the votes being close, Sotelo suggested that the issue with the machines may be enough to prompt another count.

According to state statutes, a recount is conducted in state legislative races if the difference between the candidates is less than 150 votes and less than .25 percent. The contest between Litzow and Maxwell, a Renton School Board member, was the only legislative race in King County near recount levels. Other races in Clark, Island, Snohomish and Spokane counties are likely to be recounted. Initially down by about 4,000 votes following the Nov. 4 election, Litzow made steady gains every day until early last week when the margin hovered around 500 votes.

According to King County Elections spokesperson Megan Coppersmith, all regular ballots from the 41st Legislative District had been counted as of last week, except for provisional ballots. A provisional ballot can be cast if a registered voter from Mercer Island who works in Bellevue, for instance, does not have time to vote at a local station. Instead, the voter would go to a Bellevue polling location to cast a provisional ballot. As for provisionals, about 16,000 were verified on hand and left to count as of last Friday.

The Republican Party or Litzow may request a recount. According to Egan, the county charges 25 cents per ballot in a hand recount and 15 cents per ballot in a machine recount. With district turnout approaching 70,000 voters, that would roughly cost between $10,500 and $17,500. If the outcome of the race changes, then the county reimburses the money and pays for the recount.

Litzow and Maxwell both raised just over $500,000 combined. According to the PDC, Litzow contributions totaled $292,882 and Maxwell received $209,839. Contributions to all five 41st district candidates running for the statehouse totaled $817,302.

For certified results of the 2008 general election, go to www.mi-reporter.com.

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