Standing - vote elections flag

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima County elections officials will recount ballots cast in the Wapato mayor’s race Friday as the results remain too close to call.

In official certified results released Tuesday, Wapato High School teacher Hector Garza was leading by two votes, 273-271, over semi-retired union organizer Juan “Eddy” Orozco.

Under state law, a recount is required if candidates are separated by less than half a percentage point. Garza is ahead by 0.37 percent.

While state law requires, at minimum, a machine recount in that circumstance, county elections manager Kathy Fisher said the county will manually count the ballots in accordance with its policy.

That may not be enough to settle the matter for Orozco, who says county officials’ decision to reject ballots with signature problems cost him the election. He said he’s considering legal action, claiming county officials disenfranchised voters.

“We had more votes in our favor, but Yakima County held the ballots hostage,” Orozco said Tuesday. He based his claim on people who told him they voted for him but subsequently had their ballots disqualified.

County officials said more than 30 ballots from Wapato had issues with signatures not matching those on file.

Orozco said his main concern was seeing people, including first-time voters, have their ballots disqualified. He said one man was blind and had his mother sign the ballot in his name, only to have it disqualified.

County Auditor Charles Ross said in that case, the ballot was signed by someone else and did not match the card on file or the verification form, on which the man made a simple “X” witnessed by two people.

“We’re required by law to ensure that all signatures on the ballots match the signatures on file,” Ross said.

A canvassing board consisting of Ross, Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic and County Commissioner Rand Elliott compared signatures on the ballots with verification forms and registration cards Monday, eliminating many of them.

In the final vote tally afterward, Orozco gained three votes while Garza gained two.

“I am appreciative of the democratic process and humbled by the statement that every vote counts,” Garza said.