Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher appears to have won the special election to serve another year.
With about 70 percent of the vote tabulated Tuesday night, Hatcher led Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin with 13,561 votes to Lattin’s 10,155, or 57 percent to 43 percent.
Hatcher’s strong lead makes it unlikely the results will change when Benton County election officials update the numbers at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Tuesday’s results include about 25,000 ballots, with 10,000 left to be tabulated.
The outcome of Tuesday’s special election sets the stage for a rematch in 2018, when the full four-year term is up for election. Sheriff Steve Keane retired earlier this year for health reasons.
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Hatcher will have the advantage of being the elected incumbent for the $123,000-a-year partisan post.
Lattin, well known to Tri-Citians as the city police department’s public information officer before he filed for election, has indicated he will consider running again in 2018.
The sheriff’s race was one of the fiercest in the region in 2017, with supporters aggressively pushing their candidate and promoting disparaging details about their opponent.
Both candidates are long-time Tri-Citians with deep roots in local law enforcement.
Hatcher has held virtually every post in the sheriff’s department, starting as a reserve deputy and eventually being promoted to undersheriff.
When Keane retired, Hatcher, Lattin and sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Brockman applied for appointment to the post. Benton County commissioners chose Hatcher by a vote of 2-1.
The sheriff manages 210 employees split between law enforcement and the 740-bed county jail, which typically houses about 500 inmates.
The election outcome could have implications for the jail, easily the county’s largest expense.
The county commission has toyed with removing it from the sheriff’s control during the transition from one sheriff to the next.
The move would be unusual. Only six of Washington’s 39 counties have independent jails, typically for financial reasons.
Hatcher and Lattin argued that the jail should remain part of the sheriff’s office, calling it a a centerpiece to plans to reduce recidivism and better serve people with mental health issues.