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Bates lead at 264 and (still) counting

As talk of a recount mounts, a new batch of ballots tallied Friday at the Jackson County Elections Center shows Sen. Alan Bates' lead had widened slightly over his Republican rival, Dave Dotterrer.

The race is one of two statewide that are so close neither party has declared the winners. Their outcomes will determine whether Democrats keep their hold on the Oregon Senate or it gets split evenly between the two parties.

Bates, a Medford resident, is now 264 votes ahead compared with 240 on Thursday. He's garnered a total of 24,165 votes so far, compared to Dotterrer's 23,901.

On Election Day, Dotterrer, an Ashland resident, had a 1,200-vote lead that evaporated as more ballots were processed.

The Elections Center is still processing ballots in which the signature doesn't match what is on record as well as ballots rejected by tabulation machines for various reasons. Some ballots came in late because they were dropped off at ballot boxes in other counties.

Oregon Republican Senate leaders might call for a recount, said Michael Gay, who is their spokesman.

"There is enough at stake that we're going to be monitoring it closely," he said. "At this point we cannot make a decision whether a recount is necessary."

Gay said there is a discrepancy on the Secretary of State's website concerning the number of ballots cast.

However, the discrepancy reflects the total number of ballots gathered by the county on Nov. 3 compared with Nov. 4.

Carla Corbin, compliance specialist with the Secretary of State's Office, said the ballot number is fluid because ballots come in from other counties after the Nov. 2 deadline passes.

For instance, on Nov. 4, the Elections Center had 77,447 ballots cast, but by Nov. 5 that number changed to 77,731 for a voter turnout of 67 percent.

Gay said there are also 1,500 challenged ballots, where signatures may not match. He said Republicans have offered to track down some of those voters so they can get them into the Elections Center.

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said the Secretary of State has ruled that it's not permissible for outside parties to contact these voters.

She urged voters who've received a letter in the mail indicating their signatures had to be verified to come to the Elections Office as soon as possible.

Walker said there are still more ballots subject to verification, but she didn't have a total amount.

Problems with signatures, ballots being dropped off in other counties and problems with people filling out their ballots are all typical of any election cycle, Walker said.

If a recall is requested, it would have to be after the election is certified on Nov. 22. The recall would have to be paid by the party making the request. Recounts are automatically called by the Elections Center when the discrepancy between the two candidates is two-fifths of 1 percent, or 96 votes in the case of Bates/Dotterrer.

Bates said he was giving his opponent and Senate Republican leaders a chance to make up their minds before declaring this election.

"I will leave it up to them to make their decision," he said.

Dotterrer said there are still uncounted ballots, and he wanted to see how the elections process progressed before calling the race.

"We certainly don't have the final numbers," he said.

On election night, Dotterrer and fellow Republicans expressed optimism about the early returns. Dotterrer refrained from calling the race, though.

"I was smiling, but I was smiling at the moment," he said. "In the back of my mind, I always said, 'Let's not count our chickens before they hatch.'"

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.