A 25-year-old political newcomer with deep roots in Puyallup has unseated Pierce County's highest-ranking state lawmaker.
A weeklong hand recount of more than 52,000 ballots cast in the 25th Legislative District found Hans Zeiger defeated Rep. Dawn Morrell by just 30 votes.
The county’s three-member Canvassing Board certified the results Friday as Zeiger and his father, Walt, looked on.
“It really helps you to appreciate the value of one vote,” Zeiger said.
Zeiger lives in Edgewood and works part time as a senior fellow at a Washington, D.C.- area conservative think tank called the American Civil Rights Union. He also writes about local history in the Puyallup area, where an elementary school is named after his grandfather, Ed Zeiger.
Democrats kept control of the House and the Senate. But with recounts Friday confirming the defeats of two other Democrats – House budget writer Kelli Linville of Bellingham by Vincent Buys and Sen. Randy Gordon of Mercer Island by Steve Litzow – their majorities have been trimmed to 27-22 in the Senate and 56-42 in the House.
The recount by 75 election workers in county Auditor Julie Anderson’s office ended up tallying just four more ballots than her agency’s first count. Observers from both parties praised election officials.
“There’s no more rigorous test of your checks and balances and systems than a mandatory hand recount,” Anderson said.
The process cost $71,000, Anderson said.
The recount narrowed Zeiger’s lead, which stood at 47 after the first count.
He ended the four-term legislative career of Morrell, a nurse who had risen to become the majority caucus chairwoman for House Democrats.
Next for Morrell: Taking her grandchildren to Disney-land, returning to work as a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital, and maybe going back to school to become a nurse practitioner. Activism may also be in her future.
“I’m going to be pretty loud about the inequities in the health care system,” she said.
Like many incumbents, Morrell carried the baggage of nearly $800 million in tax increases, which the Democratic leadership approved along with cuts and fund transfers to stave off a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall. Morrell voted for the new taxes.
Democrats drew attention to essays Zeiger authored, mostly in 2004-2006 while he attended Michigan’s Hills-dale College. The opinion columns, which he had removed from conservative websites during the campaign, took aim at gays, Girl Scouts and various religious faiths. He backed away from those writings during the campaign.
The suburban district has sent members of both parties to Olympia.
“We needed the right candidate,” said Andrea Innes, a Republican state committeewoman from Puyallup, “and from the day Hans decided to get in the race, he’s been focused, energetic, and he listens.”
Many Democratic incumbents locked in tight races after election night counting pulled away from their Republican challengers once late-arriving ballots came in – the result of enthusiastic Republicans voting early or a strong get-out-the-vote effort by Democrats, or both.
But the 25th race stayed tight throughout the original count, with the lead changing hands several times as more mail ballots were processed after the election.
Zeiger credited his volunteers’ last-minute push. “In the end we had people canvassing, we had people on the phones, and we had a special targeting effort to poll voters.”
Zeiger won handily among the small number of poll voters, while Morrell won in ballots cast by mail.