Candidate Loses by Single Vote After He Didn’t Cast a Ballot for Himself

(The Washington Post) – Ryan Roth mailed his ballot in a few days ahead of the Nov. 7 election, unaware that he was casting the most consequential vote of his life.

Voters in Thurston County, Wash., were electing county commissioners and choosing whether to self-impose a sales tax that would beef up funding for law enforcement. And Roth and other residents in the city of Rainier were deciding who their leaders would be.

Having run a four-month campaign to convince others that he should serve on the Rainier City Council, Roth voted for himself.

What Roth didn’t know was that he was casting the decisive ballot in a race that would be determined by one vote. His opponent, Damion Green, had chosen not to vote for himself in the election, which would take nearly a month for officials to sort out. After counting and recounting the votes, they announced Friday that they had certified the results. Roth had indeed won, defeating Green 247 votes to 246.

“It just came down to my vote, I guess,” Roth told The Washington Post.

Green said he didn’t feel right voting for himself “because it’s not about me, it’s about the people.” He figured that if God wanted him to serve, he would have gotten elected.

“I’m not good at tooting my own horn,” he added.

Roth, a 33-year-old landfill manager, decided to run for elected office because, after moving to the city two years earlier and enrolling his children in its public schools, he wanted to do his part to serve his community and have a say in its future.

“You can’t complain about something if you’re not a part of the solution,” he said.

Roth’s opponent: Green, a 40-year-old longtime Rainier resident who works in an auto body shop. Green told The Post that he ran for city council about four years ago, waging an unsuccessful write-in campaign in which he drove his car and rode his bike up and down streets as he chatted up and tried to woo would-be voters.

Green said he relied on the work he put in introducing himself to voters during that first campaign. This time around, he didn’t do much legwork aside from participating in a town hall in which he and Roth spoke to voters.

Green said that Roth impressed him at the event. He discovered that they both grew up in the area and that their kids played football together. And he realized that their politics aligned. They both wanted to preserve Rainier’s small-town identity, steering it away from the fate of other communities in the area that chose what Green saw as reckless growth that resulted in urban sprawl, increased crime and traffic jams.

Without much daylight between Roth and himself, Green didn’t have as strong a desire to defeat him.

“I really didn’t campaign much just because I knew if either one of us won, the city would win,” he said. “It was a win-win.”

Aware that Green had introduced himself to voters during his previous campaign, Roth knew he had to counter that advantage with a blitzkrieg campaign of his own. He produced and aired an ad on local TV. He made buttons and yard signs. He canvassed neighborhoods and campaigned on the sidelines of his kids’ activities.

And even though he didn’t know it would make the difference, Roth voted by Election Day. That night, the vote count put Roth 30 votes ahead of Green. By the next day, his lead had dwindled to 20. The day after that featured a lead change: Green was 10 votes ahead.

“It just goes all over the place,” Roth said, “and it’s very nerve-racking.”

On Thursday, election officials notified Roth and Green that the hand recount required by state law would happen the next day and invited them to attend. Roth did; Green didn’t. It confirmed the previous results: Roth had won by a single vote.

Green said he doesn’t regret his choice to abstain from voting, even if it may have cost him a seat on the city council.

“Everyone forgets it’s supposed to be kind of selfless,” he said.

The only thing that gives him pause is that he said he feels he let down the people who supported him.

But Green said he’s not done trying. He plans to run for city council a third time when the opportunity presents itself in the next few years. At first, he said he planned to do the same thing he had in his first two bids: not vote for himself. But when he considered the possibility of once again letting down those who campaigned and voted for him, he backtracked, saying that he would consult with his friends and family before making a final decision.

Roth does not share Green’s way of thinking. He said he always intended to vote for himself, having for decades seen presidential and vice-presidential candidates duck into booths on Election Day to vote for themselves.

“It’s my right as an American, right?” he said.

A right he almost didn’t exercise. Leading up to Nov. 7, he planned to vote early, only to forget over and over again amid the chaos of running a landfill and taking care of his family.

Roth finally mailed in his ballot after his wife nudged him – and voted himself into office.

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