YAKIMA, Wash. — Wapato residents will have to wait until Tuesday to find out who their next mayor will be.
While Wapato High School teacher Hector Garza maintained his two-vote lead over semi-retired union organizer Juan “Eddy” Orozco, election officials are reviewing the procedures used to examine signatures on irregular ballots before certifying the results Tuesday afternoon.
“We want to be sure we are following the letter of the law,” Yakima County Auditor Charles Ross said Friday. “There are not a lot of examples we can look to for guidance.”
The county has been in discussions with the Washington Secretary of State’s Office about the matter, he said.
Garza was ahead 273 to 271 votes when the county published its official vote count Tuesday, but the margin was less than a half-percent, which requires an automatic recount under state law.
The current issue involves more than 30 ballots with signatures that did not match those on file for the voters. Election officials asked voters to fill out forms that would be checked against the ballots to determine if the signatures matched. In some cases, people submitted multiple verification forms, some with different signatures.
Shannon Cortez, the state deputy director of elections, said it is unusual to have people submit multiple verification forms.
“Normally, it’s one and done,” Cortez said, adding that she had never seen anything like this in her career.
A panel consisting of Ross, Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic and County Commissioner Rand Elliott examined the signatures last week and disqualified most of the ballots because the signatures did not match.
That prompted calls of voter disenfranchisement from Orozco, who earlier said he was considering legal action.
Contacted Friday, Orozco said he is trusting the Secretary of State’s Office will settle the issue.
Ross would not comment on what influence Orozco’s protest had on the decision to hold off on certifying the race.
The canvassing board will meet again at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Ross said.