Whatcom County certified the results of its first vote-by-mail general election Tuesday afternoon, ending a count slowed by ink bleeding through ballots and write-in votes.

One extremely close county race will be heading to a hand recount next week.

Though it was an off-year election, an effort to add fluoride to Bellingham’s drinking water, a countywide sales tax measure and other local offices fueled a 62 percent voter turnout.

“Whenever you have an issue with high visibility with any amount of advertising, whether on TV or on yard signs, it does affect voter turnout,” said Whatcom County Auditor Shirley Forslof. “I was so gratified to see such a high percentage of voters participate in an odd-year election.”

Overall, the results didn’t change as Forslof certified the Nov. 8 election numbers:

* A measure to add fluoride to Bellingham’s drinking water failed.

* A countywide paramedic sales tax measure passed with overwhelming voter support.

* The Whatcom County Council’s more environmentally focused members retained their seats and gained a potential ally to their current majority. Incumbents Laurie Caskey-Schreiber and Seth Fleetwood retained their seats, and pipeline safety advocate Carl Weimer won the council’s only open seat.

* The county’s closest race, a Ferndale City Council fifth position race between incumbent Susan A. Cole and challenger Ken Downey, remains extremely close and will be recounted. Downey, an employee of the U.S. Border Patrol, holds a two-vote edge over Cole, owner of Madison’s Restaurant.

Close elections are nothing new to Ferndale City Council races. In 1997, a second recount showed incumbent Yvonne Goldsmith even with challenger Lloyd Zimmerman. Since state law prescribes a coin toss in the event of a tie, the flip of a 1921 silver dollar ultimately decided the race – Goldsmith called tails and won.

The Auditor’s Office will begin the hand recount at 9 a.m. Monday and should be finished by the end of the day, Forslof said.