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Eric Holt relying on challenged ballots to turn tide in county chair race

The Democrat has gained on Eileen Quiring in recent results, but still trails by more than 1,000 votes

CLARK COUNTY — “Democrats and die-hards vote early.”

That old adage has, historically, been highly accurate when it comes to elections in Clark County. But a funny thing has happened in recent days.

In the hotly contested race for county chair, Republican Eileen Quiring trailed after the first day, and then quickly saw her lead balloon to nearly 2,000 votes in the next few days worth of counting. All in line with history in Clark County.

Clark County Chair candidates Eileen Quiring and Eric Holt. Photos by Jacob Granneman and Chris Brown
Clark County Chair candidates Eileen Quiring and Eric Holt. Photos by Jacob Granneman and Chris Brown

But after Friday’s count, Quiring’s lead over Democrat Eric Holt was down to 1,029 votes. That’s 124 votes closer than Thursday’s count, which means Holt was picking up over 70 percent of votes during the last few days of counting.

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey says that could be due to a little-used option for voters that saw an explosion in popularity this year.

“If you have misplaced your ballot, or your ballot wasn’t delivered to you, one of the options available to you is to go online and get a copy of your ballot,” says Kimsey. “And we had, I think, almost 2,000 of those online ballots delivered to us this year. That’s three or four times what we’ve seen in the past.”

Those types of ballots are usually counted late in the process, because doing so is labor intensive and requires multiple duplications of the ballot. Kimsey says it’s possible that the demographic using that electronic voting option is more left-leaning than the historically conservative late voters in the county, though that’s all conjecture at this point.

As of today the county has counted all regular ballots, but there are still approximately 2,200 challenged ballots remaining. Those are ballots that are either missing a signature, or else have a signature that appears different than what the state has on file.

“There are three sets of eyes that will look at each affidavit, we’ll look at each signature, and make the determination of whether the signatures do match, or they don’t match,” says Kimsey.

Votes where it’s determined the signature is close enough will be counted. Anything where there’s no match, or a missing signature, is listed as challenged.

“We mail the voter a letter,” says Kimsey, “and then if the voter has provided us a phone number on their affidavit envelop we call them. We’re required to do that no later than three days before we certify the election.”

The voter then has until the day before certification of the election to cure their ballot’s signature issue in order for it to be counted. This year, certification happens Tue., Nov. 27.

While the county will be trying to reach the owners of those challenged ballots, candidates can also obtain the list and begin contacting voters on their own. It’s a practice Kimsey has said he’d rather see go away.

“Because what happens is a campaign will contact a voter and, one, the voter may not yet have been contacted by the elections office,” Kimsey says. “The letter might be in the mail still. And then some campaigns will say, ‘I’m out just surveying the neighborhood, did you vote for Joe Blow?’ and the voter says ‘no, I can’t stand Joe Blow.’ So the campaign says, ‘OK, thank you ma’am,’ and moves on to the next one.”

In Kimsey’s view, that amounts to vote hunting, which favors whichever campaign has the most eager supporters willing to make phone calls and knock on doors. But, he adds, there’s little to no chance the law will ever be changed.

It’s unclear just how many of the challenged ballots can actually be counted, so it’s impossible to know what Holt’s chances are of gaining enough to win outright. If every challenged vote was counted, he would need to win approximately 55 percent of them in order to gain enough to win outright.

If current trends continue, it is possible the race could end up within the margin to trigger an automatic recount. In Washington state, an automatic machine recount would happen if the race is within both 2,000 votes AND half a percentage point. Anyone can also request a recount, but if the race isn’t within those margins the requesting party would pay a deposit for the recount. That amount would be paid back by the county if the result of the recount favors the party that requested and paid for it.

If you’re curious about the status of your vote, you can look it up here.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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