In Yamhill County, Stern leads Starrett by three votes

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Well, folks, it looks like we may have celebrated too soon for Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Stern. Stern, an OLCV-endorsed Democrat, faced a tough challenge from Mary Starrett -- the once-perky TV host turned right-wing lunatic fringe activist. (No, really, she founded Oregonians for Life because she believed that Oregon Right to Life was insufficiently pro-life.)

The latest vote count? Stern has 10,883 votes. Starrett has 10,880 votes. With just two candidates, everyone expected it would be over in May -- but the scenario we've talked about in the Castillo/Maurer race appears to have come true in Yamhill County:

There are 50 write-in votes - and that's enough to push both candidates under 50%. Stern has 49.89% and Starrett has 49.88%. If things remain the same, neither candidate will have over 50%, so they'll be headed for an unexpected runoff. (Results here, skip to page 124 in the PDF.)

Late yesterday, I spoke with Yamhill County Clerk Rebekah Stern Doll and got the latest. All valid ballots have been processed and all votes have been counted. About 60 "challenged" ballots are outstanding - those are the ones where the signature doesn't match what's on file. Those voters have been notified, and they have until Friday at 5 p.m. to come in with ID. (Note for ballot wonks: The list of voters with challenged ballots is not a public list in Oregon; unlike California, where campaign staffers run around tracking down their voters.)

Here's how the math plays out: If all 60 challenged ballots become valid, and all 60 include a vote in this race, then Stern would need 54 to win outright. Starrett would need 57. Of course, it's highly unlikely that all 60 will become valid votes. Based on past experience, the Clerk expects around ten ballots to become valid. But if it's anything less than 47 ballots cast unanimously for Stern, or 54 ballots cast unanimously for Starrett, we're headed for a runoff.

So, sometime shortly after 5 p.m. on Friday, it'll become unofficially final. On June 7, the Clerk will certify the results and make it official. Because of the closeness of the outcome, there will almost certainly be a recount. In Oregon, all recounts are done by hand by a nonpartisan board of election workers, observed by representatives of both campaigns. Assuming nothing dramatic happens here, it'll be a runoff.

One final bit of ballot-wonkery: A quick look at the write-in votes shows a bunch of votes for folks who are obviously not eligible to serve as Yamhill County Commissioner -- namely Minnie Mouse, Lulu, George Bush II, and even Mary Steenbergen. Are those write-in votes still valid? I asked Don Hamilton at the Secretary of State's office about that last week, and the answer is yes. Even if the write-in vote is for an ineligible candidate, it's still a valid write-in vote and can force two sub-50% candidates into a runoff.

Fun stuff, eh?

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    What about a recount? Would that possibly put one candidate over 50%? (Though maybe a run-off is a better outcome.)

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    As I said, there will almost certainly be a recount.

    Because it'll be done by hand, rather than by machine, I suspect the most likely outcome will be that it'll add votes - since some of the undervotes and overvotes will be determined to be cast votes for one candidate or the other.

    Given the close margin, is it possible that one candidate could extend a lead by more than 50 or so votes - out of 21,000 cast?

    Sure. Absolutely.

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    This close outcome, similar to the still undecided head of education should give insight into what democrats face in November when the NAV's and others who were locked out of the primaries have a vote. Things will be very, very close this November

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