Franklin Co. auditor's race heads down to wire

PASCO — Franklin County Auditor Zona Lenhart wouldn't be surprised if her race against Republican challenger Matt Beaton ends up in a recount.

Beaton, a Republican real estate appraiser, had a 123-vote lead over Lenhart, the 21-year Democratic incumbent, in preliminary general election results counted Tuesday night.

Lenhart said that gap could easily narrow to the 0.5 percent difference that would trigger a mandatory recount as more ballots are counted over the next several days. The difference was 1.2 percent as of Tuesday.

In other Franklin County races, Republican Rick Miller was re-elected as commissioner for District 3, while Democratic Treasurer Tiffany Coffland likely will be out of a job in January.

Beaton, 41, of Pasco, had 5,040 votes, or almost 51 percent of those counted so far. Lenhart had 4,917 votes, or a little over 49 percent.

"It's a close one," Beaton said, but said he anticipates that he will continue his lead as the remainder of the votes are tabulated.

But Lenhart, 57, a Franklin County resident, said she was confident she'll end up in the lead after the estimated 6,000 remaining ballots are counted.

The county auditor's office had counted 10,260 votes as of Tuesday. The next update will be today at 6 p.m.

"There are still a lot of ballots to be counted and I am looking forward to a victory in the end," Lenhart said.

The auditor manages the county's elections, recording, accounting and licensing departments, which include 12 employees. The job pays $83,782 a year.

County commissioner

Rick Miller is going to get another chance to help find a solution for Franklin County's need for a larger jail while juggling a tight budget.

Miller, who was elected four years ago to serve as commissioner for the third district, was leading fellow Republican Hans "Jochen" Engelke by 4,063 votes in Tuesday's preliminary general election results.

Miller received 6,499 votes, or about 73 percent of those counted, while Engelke had 2,436 votes or 27 percent.

Engelke, 53, a Basin City farmer, said he called Miller on Tuesday night to concede the race.

"I wish him the best of luck," he said.

Miller, 51, of Pasco, said he anticipated that the remaining votes would follow the same trend.

Miller said he believes voters were well informed about the race. It was the first time that two Republicans ran for the commissioner seat in the general election under the state's new top-two primary system.

The county commissioner will receive a salary of $87,590 in 2011.

County treasurer

It looks like Basin City bookkeeper Josie Koelzer, a Republican, will get a chance to try out her private sector experience in the public sector as Franklin County treasurer.

She was leading Democrat Tiffany Coffland, the five-year incumbent, by 1,078 votes, according to preliminary general election results Tuesday.

Koelzer, 49, had 5,482 votes, or 55 percent of those counted. Coffland, 42, of Pasco, had 4,404, or 45 percent of the vote.

Koelzer said she's humbled to have the opportunity to serve the county. She anticipated that her lead would continue as the estimated 6,000 remaining ballots are counted.

Coffland said there was slim hope the results will change. She said the initial trend normally continues as remaining ballots are counted.

"It's not really about me," she said. "It's about national politics at this point."

Coffland has worked for the county for 21 years, including her time as treasurer. "I feel that I've done an excellent job," she said.

The treasurer leads the office that's in charge of collecting taxes for all taxing jurisdictions in the county. The position pays $83,782 per year.

-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com