Incumbent Justice Richard Sanders watched his lead over challenger Charlie Wiggins shrink in Monday's vote-counts for a contested seat on the state Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, in an e-mail headlined “Don’t Let Wiggins Steal This Election,” Sanders’ campaign asked for donations to help pay for volunteers and phone calls to track down voters whose ballots were rejected for mismatched signatures or other problems, hoping to get friendly votes added to the total.
Wiggins called that statement reckless, and Sanders said he hadn’t authorized such strong language.
After Monday’s tallies from most counties reporting results, Sanders led Wiggins by about 4,000 votes out of more than 1.7 million cast — a margin of 50.1 to 49.9 percent. That’s a significant improvement for Wiggins, who had been trailing by about 13,000 votes.
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State law mandates a recount if the final margin is less than 2,000 votes and less than one-half of 1 percent.
Wiggins, a Bainbridge Island attorney who briefly served as a state appeals court judge, was leading in King County, the state’s most populous, and a handful of other counties while Sanders had big leads in Eastern Washington.
Wiggins said the vote returns favoring him in King County — where he leads with 58 percent of the vote — made him “guardedly optimistic that I will pull ahead and prevail.”
King County officials reported Monday that they still have about 130,000 ballots to count.
On Friday, Sanders’ campaign asked supporters to help bankroll “ballot-chase teams, legal representatives and election observers,” reporting that some 17,000 ballots haven’t been counted because of signature problems.
Wiggins was unhappy with the e-mail’s allegation that he would try to “steal” the election. “It’s a charge of desperation,” Wiggins said Monday.
In an interview, Sanders said he didn’t agree with or authorize that statement.
“If that’s what it said, it shouldn’t have said it,” Sanders said. “I think it’s just a close election.”
Sanders has held a slim lead over Wiggins since election night. The tough campaign included Sanders coming under fire for remarks at a court meeting, contending that racial bias plays no significant role in the criminal justice system.
Sanders’ remarks caused The Seattle Times editorial board to recant its endorsement of him and instead favor Wiggins. Blacks make up 4 percent of the state’s population and nearly 20 percent of its prisoners, and studies around the country have linked such disproportionate numbers to drug enforcement policies, poverty and racial biases throughout society.
Sanders insists his comments were misconstrued.
“My view is that crime is a choice and that depending on our circumstances, that it becomes an easier one or more difficult one,” he said Monday. “I would never say, nor do I believe, that people commit crimes because of their race.”
While an automatic recount could be triggered in the race, Sanders also said he wouldn’t request and pay for a re-count if he loses and the results are outside the mandatory re-count threshold.
“It’s costly, and I assume it would not change the result,” he said.