Recount in sheriff’s race boosts confidence in Kitsap elections

The race for Kitsap County sheriff has been recertified in Democrat John Gese’s favor after a surprise hand recount resulted in just six votes being switched from the previous tally.

The certified election showed Gese winning in commanding fashion over Republican challenger Rick Kuss. With a 17-point margin, or just under 20,000 votes, separating the two, the race seemed to be all but in the books.

That was until six voters led by William Campbell of Bremerton forked over $31,000 for a recount, not to challenge the result, but to prove how accurate the results were. Specifically, the group looked to test the accuracy of the Hart Intercivic Tabulator machines used by the county’s Elections Department.

Kuss said he was not involved aside from assisting in fundraising for the recount, but he agreed it would provide clarity for voters. “Just with so much controversy since the 2016 election and the 2020 election, they really wanted to put to bed the claims of election fraud,” he said.

Kuss said the recount shows the Elections Department where it can fine-tune its process.

Auditor Paul Andrews said the recount shows just how accurate the process is. “With all of the concern people have with voting systems and accuracy, this was a great opportunity to build trust with voters and show that the people who conduct elections and the equipment we use have integrity and are accountable,” he said.

The recount began Dec. 13 as election workers took over the county commissioners chambers in Port Orchard to separate votes into each precinct. The actual recount began Dec. 16, and by Dec. 20, all 124,242 ballots had been hand-counted, showing little change in the results.

“The results of the manual recount are what I expected for a race with this many ballots,” Andrews said.

Andrews said the six changed votes all had to do with errors done by voters. One vote was added to Gese’s total after it was previously tallied as an undervote, meaning the space had been left blank. Five votes were added to Kuss’ tally after one was determined to have a write-in incorrectly counted, three were undervotes and one was determined to be an overvote, meaning more than one selection was made without the previous vote being canceled properly.

“It is important to follow the directions on your ballot when marking boxes and making changes after a box is filled in,” Andrews said.

Kuss, who was seen multiple times watching the recount in person, said it was encouraging to see the transparency the county showed. “Now a lot of people that would normally question the results of some kind of algorithm or something like that, they now know that’s not the case, at least here in Kitsap County.”