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UPDATE: Treasurer race going down to the wire

Kitsap voters haven’t been treated in years to a close, countywide election like the one that played out this week between Barbara Stephenson and Paulette Alvarado.

At press time Friday afternoon, Stephenson clung to a lead of just 54 votes out of 45,000 counted.

Stephenson held 22,243 votes (49.5 percent) and Alvarado 22,189 (49.4 percent), with the balance going to unspecified write-ins. A recount is almost assured.

They are vying in a winner-take-all primary race to replace retiring County Treasurer Sharon Shrader, also a Democrat.

“I was expecting it to be close, but not this close,” Stephenson said in the hours after the first ballot count Tuesday evening.

“I just feel very fortunate that we were able to get our message out to the voters and, so far, the absentee ballot trend has gone our way.”

“It’s just so close,” Alvarado said Tuesday, as she celebrated at the house of her brother with family and friends.

It was close from the start.

The first counts of mail-in votes on Tuesday night showed Stephenson held a slim lead with 50.55 percent of the vote over Alvarado’s 48.42 percent.

But the margin narrowed after the precinct polls closed that evening, and as the elections division started to count the remaining ballots.

Returns showed Bainbridge Island voters leaning toward Alvarado, Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn said.

The election is scheduled to be certified on Sept. 27. Total voter turnout is expected to be around 45 percent, elections officials say.

Whatever the outcome, either Stephenson or Alvarado will become the county’s next treasurer, since there will be no Republican challenger in the November general election.

“It’s not real common for an election to be decided in the primary, but it has happened,” said Dolores Gilmore of the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office. “Usually in partisan races, more than one party files.”

The last time it happened was eight years ago. At that time, Russ Hauge and Dan Clem, both Democrats, vied for the Kitsap County Prosecutor position, with Hauge winning outright following the primary.

As the race between Stephenson and Alvarado now stands, a recount will be forced.

Auditors officials say if the differential gets smaller than one-half of a percent, a recount is automatic. If that gap narrows to one-fourth of a percent, a manual recount is called for.

The vote-count differential between Stephenson and Alvarado through Friday’s returns was 0.12 percent.

In her campaign, Stephenson emphasized both her 14 years of work in the banking industry and her 11 years as the executive director of the United Way of Kitsap County, as the means of overcoming impending budget crunches for the county.

Alvarado, on the other hand, pointed to her 25 years of experience as the city of Poulsbo’s accounting manager.

Alvarado has said she is not only a manager but someone who can take on any role in the office when called upon to do so. Shrader has endorsed Alvarado.

Stephenson said if her bid for treasurer is successful, the United Way of Kitsap expects to immediately launch a national and local search for her replacement.

Members of the board would then hope to fill that position before the start of the new year.

Meanwhile, Alvarado retired after 25 years from her post at Poulsbo City Hall in July. She opted to run for the county treasurer position after State Treasurer Michael Murphy encouraged her to do so.

“The tide has turned and it’s going our way,” Alvarado said.

Staff writer John Waldo contributed to this report.

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