Port of Olympia District 3 candidate E.J. Zita pulled ahead of Jerry Farmer by 21 votes Thursday after an updated ballot count.
The Thursday afternoon count was the third since election night. The election won’t be certified until Nov. 24.
Zita has steadily gained on Farmer since Tuesday, cutting his 600-vote lead to about half that by Wednesday, then overtaking him on Thursday.
Out of 49,807 votes cast, Zita has 50.02 percent of the vote compared with Farmer’s 49.98 percent.
Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall called Zita’s late move unprecedented, saying in the vote-by-mail era, election night percentages tend to hold true.
“Something must have happened late in this race to turn it toward Zita,” she said.
Zita said Thursday she felt good about the vote she got out on limited funding.
“I’m really grateful to all my volunteers and supporters,” she said.
At the same time, she wasn’t assuming anything about the final outcome of the race, saying she and Farmer “both ran strong campaigns.”
Farmer could not be reached for comment.
Many ballots remain to be counted, Hall said, including 463 that are being challenged, either because the ballot wasn’t signed or the signature itself is in question.
The Auditor’s Office also has 2,000 ballots that need to be duplicated and run through the tabulator again because of the messy conditions of the ballots.
For example, some voters changed their minds and crossed out their first selection on the ballot. Other voters rested their pen in the ballot oval and created a slight mark, but then filled in a different oval. Still other voters used a pencil that left too light a mark, Hall said.
Some military ballots are still to come, and ballots that just haven’t made it to the Auditor’s Office yet, she said. After a wave of consolidation in the U.S. Postal Service, first class mail is processed in Seattle before it returns to Thurston County.
If the Thursday count holds, the port race also faces a hand recount because the candidates are within one-quarter of 1 percent and 150 votes of each other.
If Zita and Farmer are still within the hand recount range after the election is certified, the recount will take place the week after Thanksgiving, Hall said.