Fifteen votes gave Dan Kathren the win needed to become Benton County District Court judge for Position 3 on Tuesday.
Kathren, who at one point led Alex Ekstrom by a single vote, said he was very happy the vote counting was finished more than a month after the Nov. 2 general election.
"The entire time I knew I had a worthy opponent. I was never certain of the results until the canvassing board signed off this morning," Kathren said.
The mandatory recount of more than 64,000 ballots took a week, with Kathren finishing with 25,057 votes while Ekstrom received 25,042.
In the end, it was 16 questioned ballots with stray marks, problems with write-in entries or evidence of voters changing their minds that led to the dramatic finish.
Kathren said his wife and father were at the courthouse in Prosser to see the canvassing board review the challenged ballots and certify the results, declaring him the winner.
"It's the biggest single project I've taken on in my life. I am extremely grateful to the people who endorsed me, my family, my committee, all the voters in Benton County and to my opponent for running an honorable campaign," said Kathren, who is a native of Richland where he has been in private practice since 1996.
He and Ekstrom, both 40, were making a first attempt at being elected to public office to fill a vacancy with Judge Holly Hollenbeck's retirement at year's end.
The close race showed more than 13,500 voters not choosing anyone for the judgeship. And another 180 voters preferred to write-in a candidate.
Nine other ballots were "over votes," which means the voter marked more than one candidate for the position. That typically occurs when the voter marks a candidate, and then adds a write-in, said Derek Anderson, election specialist.
Ekstrom, who is an assistant U.S. attorney for Washington's Eastern District, enjoyed the backing of several judges. He was a former deputy prosecutor in Benton and Franklin counties.
Kathren, who does contract defense legal services for indigent clients in District Court, had support that was more populist.
The two candidates ran campaigns that avoided attack ads and criticism of each other, Kathren noted.
Once the results were announced just before noon in Prosser, Kathren said he took his wife out to breakfast to celebrate.
"Now the real anxiety begins," Kathren said, noting that he must close out his law practice and find other attorneys who can take his cases before he dons judicial robes in Benton County District Court onJan. 10.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; email@example.com