Mike McGinn, Joe Mallahan - Greg Nickels? Who'd We Really Elect?

Either Mike McGinn, with his 462-vote lead, or Joe Mallahan, still gaining, will be Seattle's next mayor. But did we elect the winner?

We'll never know. While every vote counts, not every vote is counted. It's one of the reasons incumbent mayor Greg Nickels isn't in the race today. He might have won the primary, and gone on to the general, depending on what voters actually intended.

But in August, of the 353,000 ballots mailed in, only 344,000 were counted. The other 9,000 votes cast were disqualified, and never tallied.

Nickels lost by 2,152 votes to second-place finisher Mallahan. Had most or all of those disqualified votes been counted, would the mayor have gone on to the finale? Could have.

If he did, he would likely be in the same position today as either Mallahan or McGinn - one of them about to win an office but, once again, not necessarily be voted into it. The close "counted vote" may even lead to a re-count - in which those even more-meaningful "uncounted votes" are disqualified again.

Critics are blaming the elections department for the delayed count that has led to the cliff-hanging mayoral indecision. The bureaucracy always needs work. But in a large way, it's the voters' fault, too.

In the primary, 4,760 votes arrived too late to be counted. Another 2,640 voters suffered from poor penmanship - ballot signatures didn't match those on file. And another 489 didn't sign at all. Forty-four sent in only empty envelopes. And 22 turned out to have died earlier. Bummer.

Final disqualification numbers for Tuesday's vote are yet to come. But already more than 4,000 signatures are being questioned. The disqualification rate has been steadily rising in recent years, in part because more votes - and now all county votes - are mailed in.

Apparently, that's complicated: fill in the circle, put the ballot in a security envelope, sign it legibly, put it in a bigger envelope, and mail it on time.

As thousands can attest, democracy's quite the challenge.

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