All-mail election could keep decision unknown on Nov. 3

October 27, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

When City Council candidate Joan Probala and her supporters gather at Gibson Hall on election night, the crowd could be cheated out of knowing how the months-long campaign culminates.

As Issaquah readies for the first city election conducted since the countywide switch to all-mail voting, a rush of last-minute balloting — combined with a history of close elections — could leave Issaquah voters without clear results as Nov. 3 draws to a close.

King County Elections will post unofficial returns at 8:15 p.m. Nov. 3. The unofficial count will include ballots received by Election Day. Voters will have to wait until 4 p.m. Nov. 4 for the next batch of unofficial results.

Issaquah voters will await the outcome of a pair of City Council races, and a schools contest to fill a seat open for the first time in 16 years.

The elections office predicts 56 percent of King County voters will cast ballots. Officials sent 16,428 ballots to Issaquah voters; 1,586 had been returned by Oct. 25, according to unofficial elections office figures.

King County Elections spokeswoman Kim van Ekstrom said ballots mailed on Election Day would not be reflected in the tally until the end of the week. She encouraged voters to send ballots early, in order for the elections office to report more complete results Nov. 3.

“It may not be apparent on election night what the outcome will be,” van Ekstrom said.

The elections office plans to release results until Nov. 23; election results will be certified the next day.

But Probala and her opponent, Council President Maureen McCarry, could be left wondering about the outcome of the election Nov. 3.

McCarry recalled how she was left in limbo for weeks after her 2005 campaign, when she bested Bill Conley by only 21 votes. Recounts ensued because the candidates were separated by a handful of votes.

As the 2009 campaign winds down, McCarry hopes for a clear outcome when she joins supporters at Stan’s Bar-B-Q on election night.

The race for the other contested council seat, with newcomers Tola Marts and Nathan Perea, could be tough to call, too. The candidates hope to succeed longtime Councilman David Kappler, who will step down in December.

Voters could also be left waiting for a victor in the school board race. Newcomers Marnie Maraldo and Wright Noel are vying for the Director District No. 2 position, held by Connie Fletcher for the past 16 years.

Fletcher resigned in September after she was appointed to the state Board of Education.

With so many new names on the ballot, election predictions can be complicated.

The city races failed to coalesce around a defining issue — such as the Southeast Bypass decision in the 2007 council election — and neither council contest produced a clear frontrunner.

Past council races also hinged on a few dozen votes, such as when Eileen Barber pulled ahead of citizen activist Connie Marsh by 116 votes in the 2005 election.

On Election Day, other council races will produce little suspense: incumbent Barber will be re-elected unopposed and newcomer Mark Mullet will become the first Issaquah Highlands resident elected to the seven-member board. Mullet, elected unopposed, will succeed Councilman John Rittenhouse.

Chad Magendanz, appointed to the school board last October, will cruise to election as well.

Even if a candidate is ahead in election-night returns, subsequent ballot counting can change his or her fortune.

In 1993, when then-Councilwoman Ava Frisinger made her first bid for mayor, election night closed with Frisinger ahead of the incumbent. Mayor Rowan Hinds later defeated Frisinger by 14 votes.

The next time Frisinger faces voters, Election Day will be less dramatic. The mayor, elected in 1997, will be re-elected unopposed to a fourth term Nov. 3.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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