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Hand recount confirms Stephenson victory

The secured room adjoining the Kitsap County elections division in Port Orchard was abuzz with activity Monday, but it was a hushed activity, punctuated only by shuffling noises and scattered murmuring.

Two dozen Kitsap County elections workers, hunched over bundles of ballots already cast and counted in the primary election, were busy sorting them, counting them and, sometimes, re-checking them at a series of work tables.

Welcome to this year’s Kitsap County primary election recount. And a manual one at that.

The close primary race for Kitsap treasurer between Democrats Barbara Stephenson and Paulette Alvarado forced a manual recount of all the ballots cast countywide in the election – nearly 54,000 of them.

At the time of certification on Friday, Sept. 27, Stephenson held the lead with just 74 votes over Alvarado.

Stephenson, director of the United Way of Kitsap County, had 22,529 votes. Alvarado, a retired city of Poulsbo budget manager, had 22,455 votes.

After eight hours of work on Monday, the recount staff determined that Stephenson was indeed the winner .

Stephenson picked up a few more votes in the recount, with her total reaching 22,607. Alvarado also picked up some votes, but it wasn’t enough. Her final count was 22,500 – a difference of 107.

Stephenson will appear on the November ballot unopposed, clinching her bid as county treasurer.

“Both candidates picked up a number of votes for several reasons,” Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn said. “When you hand-count and look at each ballot, you can figure out those tiny little things that machines just don’t tabulate. That’s why we have hand counts in close races, so we can be sure we are verifying the electronic count.”

Sometimes well-meaning voters mark the ballot, erase that mark and check a different box, confusing the machinery.

“It seems like every year we have had a recount of some sort, whether it’s an electronic recount or a manual recount,” said Dolores Gilmore, elections division manager. “It’s a common occurrence.”

At least two full-time elections division staff members were on hand Monday to distribute ballots, sorted and bundled by precinct, for the recount effort.

There are 199 precincts in Kitsap County.

The ballots are kept in a room separate from the recount workers and are locked in boxes, labeled with tracking numbers.

As one team of two recount staffers finishes one bundle, a full-time staff member retrieves another precinct bundle for that team, and the process continues.

Breaks were offered every couple of hours for the temporary recounters, who were paid minimum wage for the effort. The workers represented a wide range of interests; both men and women and Republicans and Democrats are represented in their number.

Security and quality control are key, as well as public access to this very public process. That’s why constituents involved with particular campaigns, or the candidates themselves can observe the recount from the sidelines.

At least so long as numbers don’t reach unbearable proportions.

Observers sign in before entering the room and are not allowed near the ballots.

“I am really impressed with this office,” said Stephenson, who with two of her campaign supporters, observed the recount on Monday. “I find the office to be highly organized, responsible and full of integrity.”

Stephenson said she would probably stay all day as the recount progressed.

Monday morning, the recount had so far confirmed Stephenson’s slim lead in the race.

“I feel really good because we ran a really good, clean campaign and I am looking forward to being the next Democratic treasurer serving the citizens of Kitsap County,” Stephenson said.

“We have prevailed in each of the precinct recounts, and history tells you there is just not a lot of change from the initial ballot tabulations.”

Reached by phone before the day of the recount, Alvarado said she didn’t intend on observing the recount, which was to take an entire work day (eight hours).

Recounts are a complicated affair.

Once one pile of precinct ballots are plunked down at a work station, a two-member recount team sorted the ballots into five groups:

Votes for Stephenson; votes for Alvarado; write-in votes; questionable ballots; and ballots that either had votes for more than one candidate, or no candidate was voted for in the race.

Then one member of the recount team would count the ballots in each pile and then a comparison would be made between that recount tally and the final electronic count, which was certified on Friday.

If they matched, the team could move on. If not, then the other member of the team counts the ballots until board members agree on the tally.

Questionable ballots went on to the canvass board for a final determination.

Community Events, April 2014

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