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Friday, November 8, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Monorail lead slips; Demos making gains

While the monorail proposal in Seattle is still ahead, its lead slipped in the latest round of absentee ballots released yesterday.

In other races from Tuesday's general election, Supreme Court candidate Mary Fairhurst and Jim Johnson remained in a dead heat, and Democrats made big gains in their battle to retain control of the Legislature.

The Seattle monorail's lead dropped from a 52.15 percent approval rate to 51.15 percent. But monorail supporters were undaunted.

Seattle absentee ballots counted yesterday were at the elections office by Monday. Supporters believe that's significant because they say absentee voters who mailed or delivered their ballots on Election Day voted like people who went to the polls. Those who went to the polls were predominantly pro-monorail.

King County election officials expect to release more tallies today, tomorrow and beginning again Tuesday. Other counties also will release new numbers today. State law requires the election to be certified by Nov. 20.

In King County, about 220,000 of a projected 335,000 absentee ballots still need to be counted, officials said. They projected that about 545,000 people voted at the polls and by mail-in ballot.

Of the Seattle absentee ballots counted yesterday, only 45 percent were pro-monorail — nearly the same rate as early absentees counted on election night, which typically run more conservative than other voters.

Election officials estimated about 60,000 Seattle absentee ballots remain to be counted.

If that figure is right, the monorail proposal would need about 48 percent of them to pass, higher than the absentee yes votes so far. From another perspective, if current trends continue, monorail would lose by about 3,000 votes.

Under the proposal, a new "Seattle Popular Monorail Authority" would oversee construction of a 14-mile line, serving downtown and the western side of the city, for $1.75 billion.

Only 17,446 absentee votes on the monorail were counted yesterday, a fraction of the overall number.

Pro-monorail leaders are counting on later absentees to resemble the in-person ballots, which were 54 percent yes votes.

"It's completely what I anticipated would be the case," said Patrick Kylen, chairman of the Rise Above It All pro-monorail campaign. "People who dropped absentees in the mail on Tuesday are probably just getting there. So we won't start seeing the new absentees that will follow the trend from the polls until Monday or Tuesday."

Henry Aronson, leader of Citizens Against the Monorail, said it's too early to say what will happen with the monorail.

"The voters have spoken. We just don't know what they've said," Aronson said.

Supreme Court

In the closest state Supreme Court race in more than a decade, King County voters continued to keep Fairhurst at the heels of leader Johnson for Position 3.

Fairhurst, a long-time attorney with the state Attorney General's Office, held a strong lead in King County. Johnson enjoyed strong support in rural counties and held an edge in Snohomish County.

Geographically, the voting pattern has been no surprise. Johnson came into the election with the backing of the state Republican and Libertarian parties, the Washington State Farm Bureau and the National Rifle Association — groups with strong rural and Eastern Washington appeal.

Fairhurst was expected to do better in urban areas, with the backing of state Democratic leaders, environmentalists and five sitting state justices.

In the other contested race, incumbent Justice Charles Johnson retained his Position 4 seat against Pamela Loginsky.

Legislature

Democrats, who now have a 50-48 edge in the House, held leads in 52 races after yesterday's vote counts. The tallies also gave Senate Democrats renewed hope that they might hold on to their 25-24 majority.

But with hundreds of thousands of ballots left to count in the next week, neither party was able to claim victory in either chamber.

"There was very little good news for us today," said state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance. "These things break back and forth; hopefully they'll break back our way."

The balance of power could come into clearer view today when thousands more ballots are counted in King, Snohomish, Whatcom and Kitsap counties.

"This is excruciatingly close," Vance said.

One of this year's most contentious legislative grudge matches took a surprise turn, with Democratic incumbent Geoff Simpson narrowly overtaking Republican Phil Fortunato in the race for a District 47 House seat.

"I kind of expected absentees to boost my numbers. I was kind of surprised to see that big a jump," said Simpson, who went from being 544 votes behind to 107 votes ahead.

Fortunato also was startled by the change but predicted results would continue to seesaw, with late-arriving absentee ballots eventually putting him over the top.

Democrat Pat Sullivan also benefited from the new trend in his bid to unseat four-term 47th District Rep. Jack Cairnes, a Republican. Cairnes' lead dropped from 832 votes to 311.

In several close Eastside races, Democrats held their leads.

The new results were nearly enough for Republican Mike Wensman to give up hope of winning a House seat in the 41st District, which covers Mercer Island and part of Bellevue.

"I'd say that makes it very unlikely that's going to change," said Wensman, after hearing the new count kept him behind Democrat Judy Clibborn by roughly 5 percentage points.

In Bellevue's 48th District, Democratic House candidate Ross Hunter maintained his lead over Republican George Aiton. And in the 45th District, incumbent Rep. Laura Ruderman, a Democrat, put a bit more distance between herself and Republican Elizabeth Bookspan.

In another pivotal House race, Democrat Dawn Morrell built a bigger lead over Republican incumbent Dave Morell in the 25th District, which includes Puyallup.

The best news for Republicans was that former GOP lawmaker Lois McMahan expanded her lead over Democratic incumbent Brock Jackley in the 26th District, which covers parts of Pierce and Kitsap counties.

In the battle for the Senate, meanwhile, Republican incumbent Bob Oke of Port Orchard, who had a narrow lead Tuesday, fell behind Democratic challenger Betty Ringlee.

If Ringlee wins the 26th District duel, the Democrats will retain control of the Senate.

But Republicans expect Oke to bounce back today when more votes are counted in the Kitsap County portions of the 26th — Oke's home turf.

Staff reporters Mike Lindblom, Eric Pryne, Ralph Thomas, Warren Cornwall and Ray Rivera contributed to this report.

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