Grays Harbor County election officials met in Montesano Tuesday afternoon to certify the results of dozens of 2023 general election races across the county, but the results of Aberdeen’s mayoral race are still unofficial as Douglas Orr’s four-vote lead over Debi Ann Pieraccini was slim enough to trigger a machine recount.
Final ballot counts from the Grays Harbor County Assessor’s Office put Orr at 1,363 votes (49.55%), a slight advantage over Pieraccini’s 1,359 votes (49.4%). Auditor Joe Maclean said Tuesday afternoon the margin is 0.29% — narrow enough to qualify for a machine recount but too large to qualify for a recount by hand.
That percentage margin is larger than the one displayed on the auditor’s website. Maclean said that’s because the margin used to assess whether or not a race is eligible for a recount is calculated after removing the write-in ballots and ballots with certain voting errors. In Aberdeen, 29 people voted for a write-in candidate.
Per state law, races separated by a margin narrower than 0.5% require machine recounts, while races narrower than 0.25% require manual recounts.
Several races across the county are separated by a handful of votes, but only the race for Position 6 on the Ocean Shores City Council will undergo an automatic recount. Candidates in other races may request a recount, but those can sometimes cost thousands of dollars as they require a 25-cent deposit per ballot.
Maclean said the recount for the Aberdeen mayor’s race will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 9 a.m., and will take “minutes.”
“It’s an awfully close race,” Orr said Tuesday afternoon, adding, “I don’t think it’s going to change that much, if it does change.”
In a phone call Tuesday afternoon, Pieraccini said the clean campaigns of each candidate will benefit future relations between the two, regardless of the outcome of the recount.
“Whether I’m the mayor or I’m still on the city council, we’re going to end up working together,” she said.
Vote counts were changing even in the hours leading up to the county’s 2 p.m. certification meeting on Tuesday. The ballot count data posted on the auditor’s website on Tuesday morning showed Orr with a five-vote lead, but the margin grew even slimmer in the next few hours, when one ballot, sent from Hong Kong, China by an Aberdeen resident, showed up by mail in Grays Harbor County and was added to the count.
Maclean said the ballot was postmarked for Nov. 2, five days before the election, and took the entire month to be delivered.
The Aberdeen mayor’s race has been hanging in the balance since an initial ballot count on election day, Nov. 7, left Orr leading by a razor thin, two-vote margin. Another count two days later nudged the lead to eight votes, and a count the following week held it there.
At that point, on Nov. 15, with only a handful of ballots left to count, a vast majority of the races in the county had clear winners. But, according to data from the Washington Secretary of State’s Office, 32 ballots from Aberdeen had been rejected on election day, either because they weren’t signed or were signed incorrectly. For Pieraccini, the fact that voters still had a chance to “cure” those ballots left a window of hope that she could close the gap.
After the county auditor’s office contacted each of the remaining ballot owners with news of their error, 17 of them corrected their ballots, according to Maclean. During this process, voters rectify their signatures or any voting mistakes but are not allowed to change their votes.
Several races in the county hinged on those ballots, although the final count, which was posted to the Grays Harbor County Auditor’s website Tuesday morning, did not change the leaders for any of the county’s tightly contested races.
The cured ballots trickling in as certification day drew near were unrelated to a ballot mix-up that occurred in October. In that incident, the auditor’s office accidentally mailed 600 ballots that did not include an option to vote in the Aberdeen mayor’s race to all of precinct 162, in northwest Aberdeen on the border with Hoquiam and includes neighborhoods near Harbor Regional Health and along U.S. Highway 101.
Maclean said his office caught the printing mistake before the ballots reached voters, but they were “already on a truck ready to be delivered to the post office and couldn’t be pulled” due to operational costs. Those 600 people in precinct 162 first received a ballot without the mayor’s race, but soon after a second ballot arrived with the race included, which Maclean’s office had mailed out immediately following the mistake.
On election day, the auditor’s office reviewed completed ballots from precinct 162 to ensure they contained an option to vote in the mayor’s race. All except 12 filled out the correct ballot. Maclean said he personally visited the residences of those voters to ensure they could cast a vote for mayor of Aberdeen. He said he was successful in all cases except for one residence he was unable to locate.
The auditor’s office received 202 ballots from that precinct, with 107 people voting for Orr and 91 voting for Pierracini.
Orr fared the best in neighboring precincts to the east, including in the Bel Aire and Broadway Hills neighborhoods, and east of the Wishkah River, while Pieraccini excelled in areas of west Aberdeen, downtown, and south Aberdeen.
The Ocean Shores mayor’s race was effectively decided on election night when City Councilor Frank Elduen came away with a healthy lead over incumbent Jon Martin. Now that the results have been certified by county officials, Elduen will take office immediately, rather than in January. That’s because Martin, the current mayor, was appointed, not elected, to his position in 2021.
One council race is still too close to call. Final ballot tabulations left the race for Position 6 on the Ocean Shores City Council separated by one vote, meaning a manual recount is required before officially certifying the winner.
Richard Wills has garnered 49.9% of the vote and holds the diminutive edge over Peggy Jo Faria, who has 49.87% of the vote.
Maclean said the manual recount will occur Wednesday, Dec. 6, and could take up to a day.
Faria held a 31-vote lead after the election day ballot count but lost it two days later when Wills took a six-vote lead, which he held until Tuesday.
Lisa Griebel was certified as the winner of the race for Position 3 on the city council. She holds a 16-vote lead over Susan Conniry. That’s two votes greater than the lead she held after the ballot count two weeks ago. Maclean said 33 rejected ballots in Ocean Shores were cured since then.
In the tight race for Position 4 on the Cosmopolis City Council, Mark Collett finished with two votes more than Sue Darcy, 287-285. Maclean said that margin does not trigger an automatic recount.
Jacob Borden garnered nine more votes than Rob Woodman in the race for Elma City Council Position 5, with final vote tallies at 308-299. That margin does not trigger an automatic recount, according to Maclean.
Oakville School Board
Elizabeth Brockman has averted a challenge from a write-in candidate as she finished Tuesday with 194 votes, four more than were cast for a write-in candidate. Liz Marriott filed earlier this year as an official write-in candidate, but it’s unclear how many of the write-in votes are for Marriott, because the auditor’s office is not required by law to specify write-in ballots unless they exceed the amount cast for the other listed candidate.