How could Dave Dotterrer, Republican challenger against state Sen. Alan Bates, have been so far ahead Tuesday night, then irretrievably behind just a day later?

How could Dave Dotterrer, Republican challenger against state Sen. Alan Bates, have been so far ahead Tuesday night, then irretrievably behind just a day later?

Analysts say it comes down to when people vote. And Democrats, they say, tend to procrastinate till the last minute.

Democratic Ashland voters flocked to the ballot drop box behind the library Tuesday evening, creating lines of cars stretching around the block. The flood of ballots from the second-largest city in the county was consequently counted last, sending Bates into the lead by 5 p.m. Wednesday, said Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker.

"Republicans got the vote out early," Walker said. Those mail-in ballots were tallied first, showing a 1,276-vote edge for Dotterrer in the first batch of results.

"In the last run of ballots, they were from all over, the same as in any run," said Walker, "but Ashland, because of its large population and the fact that it really used the drop site, hit us with ballots."

The biggest drop site is at the county Elections Office, with Ashland second, followed by sites in Central Point, Eagle Point and Rogue River. The ballots are counted as they're received, with the first "pass" being ballots mailed in during the weeks before the election, Walker said.

Democratic campaign strategist Cathy Shaw, Bates' campaign manager and author of "Running and Winning Local Elections," said Republicans were deeply motivated to overthrow Democrats this election and were boosted by the fact that whoever is in power in a bad economy loses seats.

The first returns, posted shortly after polls closed, were a "snapshot" of mail-ins, with the second pass telling the story, Shaw said. The second pass showed Dotterrer's lead had shrunk to 726 votes.

"You saw a movement of Bates toward Dotterrer, and once that starts, I've never seen it flip," she said.

Bates' deficit had shrunk to 600 votes by Wednesday morning and to 103 by 2 p.m. At 5 p.m., he surged ahead.

"Progressives vote later, unless there's something unusual on the ballot, like Obama in '08. Democrats voted early that year," said Shaw. She added that negative campaigning suppresses liberal voting more than conservative, and there was a lot of it in the Esquivel-Howe race for House District 6, which covers about half of Bates' Senate District 3.

Turnout in the Republican-leaning House district was 58 percent compared to 70 percent in Ashland, she said. Bates got six votes to every one for Dotterrer in Ashland.

Bates, who refuses to claim victory until the vote is certified or his opponent concedes, said late voters were the more thoughtful ones who took time to study the complex ballot measures and candidates and weren't necessarily following party line.

"This slowed it down — and that's where our strength was, in those voters," said Bates.

Asked why the switch in the tally 21 hours after polls closed, Dotterrer said, "I don't know what happened; I haven't seen the analysis." His campaign manager, Eric Peck, similarly noted, "I haven't the slightest idea. I wish I did."

Dotterrer said he won't yet concede the race but declined to say whether he'll seek a recount, which he would have to pay for. The spread between the candidates is too wide to trigger an automatic recount at government expense.

Republican strategist John Watt, a former Medford legislator, said a group of Republicans, including one from the Senate Republican office, is doing a fact-finding meeting here and may challenge a discrepancy in the ballots returned — listed on the Secretary of State's website as 76,320 and on the Jackson County elections page as 77,447, a difference of 1,127.

Watt said there could be a simple answer to the discrepancy, but that "the next logical step is to ask for a recount and we'll make that decision Friday."

About 1 percent of ballots remain uncounted, including those with signature challenges, rejected by counting machines or mailed from other counties, and these amount to about 775 ballots.

Analyzing the outstanding ballots, Shaw said about 65 percent of them, or 503, should fall in the Bates district and Dotterrer would have to get 75 percent of them to win.

"It's not going to happen," said Shaw, a former Ashland mayor.

Bates simply noted, "It's mathematically possible, but very improbable."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.