Recount sought in SeaTac minimum wage vote

Opponents of a minimum wage ballot measure that would affect workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport want a recount after results showed Proposition 1 passing by just 77 votes, or slightly more than 1 percentage point.
Opponents of a minimum wage ballot measure that would affect workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport want a recount after results showed Proposition 1 passing by just 77 votes, or slightly more than 1 percentage point.Elaine Thompson / AP

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By Margaret Santjer

Opponents of a ballot measure to require a $15 per hour minimum wage for many workers in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport said Tuesday they will request a hand recount, after a final tally showed the measure passing by just 77 votes.

“When an election is this close, everyone should be assured the outcome is as certain as possible,” said Scott Ostrander, co-chair of opposition group Common Sense SeaTac, in a statement.

Proposition 1 is an initiative in the city of SeaTac, a suburb south of Seattle and home to the airport, that sets a $15-per-hour floor on wages and mandates paid sick leave. It is being watched closely by labor advocates pushing for higher wages across the service sector.

As of Monday, 50.64 percent of voters approved Proposition 1, while 49.36 percent opposed it. The measure had led since Election Day, but the margin shrank from the initial 54 percent approval it had Nov. 5. 

Washington state votes by mail, and ballots had to be postmarked by Election Day. King County elections workers have been releasing updated vote totals daily, and results were certified Tuesday afternoon.

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“If there’s one thing we all learned from the 2004 recounts of the (Washington state) governor’s race, counting ballots has a margin of error like any other human endeavor,” Ostrander said in the statement. “And we learned, too, recounts can change the result. So we are asking for a hand count of the ballots to get the most accurate possible count.”

Ostrander was referring to the unusual election race between Democrat Christine Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi, in which Rossi was declared the winner in the initial automated count and a machine recount, but Gregoire was declared the winner after a hand recount, by 133 votes.

Heather Weiner, a spokeswoman for Yes! For SeaTac, said she wasn't surprised by the request for a recount.

"There's no problem with going back over the vote and rechecking them. That's fine. If we were in the same boat, we'd probably do the same," she said while waiting for a flight at Sea-Tac on Tuesday afternoon.

But the group declared victory and renewed its call for opponents to drop a lawsuit over the measure so it can be implemented Jan. 1.

"I'm sitting at the airport now and looking at workers who very much would like to see a higher wage" and sick days, Weiner said.

By law, the group requesting the recount must pay for it – in this case, 25 cents per ballot. In all, 6,001 ballots were cast for the measure, bringing the cost to about $1,500. 

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure this month to raise the state's minimum wage to $8.25 an hour on Jan. 1. Washington has the highest state minimum wage, at $9.19 an hour (California has committed to $10 an hour by 2016).

Similar efforts to raise the minimum wage are under way across the country, from the District of Columbia to South Dakota, heading into next year's mid-term elections.