OLYMPIA – Sailing into uncharted waters, the state Democratic Party on Friday paid $730,000 to launch an unprecedented hand recount of the more than 2.8 million ballots cast in the governor’s race.
Party attorneys also infuriated Republicans by filing a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court to force counties to include thousands of ballots that were earlier ruled invalid.
Democrats are hoping to turn up enough Democratic votes to reverse Democrat Christine Gregoire’s 42-vote loss to Republican Dino Rossi in last week’s recount. Rossi won the initial tally by 261 votes.
“I have never stopped believing that Chris Gregoire was elected governor of the state of Washington,” said Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt. “We’re going to count every vote in every county, whether it was a Rossi county or a Gregoire county.”
The results should be in by Christmas.
This week, the election and recount results were certified, officially making Rossi the governor-elect. But Democrats maintain that inconsistent deadlines and election errors unfairly disqualified thousands of ballots.
The court case is an attempt to force election officials to review – and include – at least some of those ballots in the recount.
Republicans were furious.
“By filing this lawsuit, the Democrats are flat-out trying to steal this election,” said state GOP chairman Chris Vance. “You don’t do this. You don’t take it this far. Democracy is founded upon the willingness of people to lose gracefully.”
Republicans maintain that this second recount should be exactly that: a re-counting of the same ballots. Trying to revive invalid ballots now, they said, is like trying to rewrite the rules.
“This is like the Sonics or Seahawks losing by one point or one field goal and then saying ‘We’d like to change the rules, and now we win,’ ” said former Secretary of State Ralph Munro, a Republican.
Spokane resident Kris Birdsell said this isn’t a case of a sore loser. She feels so strongly about it that she’s volunteered to spend hours as an election observer next week.
“It’s such a slim margin that I think anybody could look at this and say ‘Let’s do an instant replay,’ ” she said.
Hundreds of such volunteers will be observing and – in Democrat/Republican pairs – counting the ballots in counties across the state. Most counties will start Wednesday. The state’s most populous county, King County, has set aside 23,000 square feet of office space for 80 counting teams. Any disputed ballots will go to the county’s canvassing board, which will rule on whether they count.
“The canvassing board is well prepared,” said King County elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan. “I’ve seen the magnifying glass there. I’ve even seen a flashlight there.”
Barring a reversal of the election outcome, all this recounting will be paid for by Democrats. Tapped out after the election, the party struggled this week to raise the $730,000 deposit by Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline. By Friday night, a spokeswoman said, they’d raised about $1 million. Berendt said he expects the recount to cost as much as $1.4 million.
A lot of help came from big-name Democrats and political action committees. Former presidential candidate John Kerry contributed $250,000. Fellow candidate Howard Dean e-mailed thousands of supporters, who responded with a wave of cash. And powerful Democratic group Move On PAC raised another $250,000. Organized labor, Indian tribes and other traditional Democratic allies contributed as well.
“As we’re standing here, my computer is going click, click, click with contributions from around the country,” Berendt said.
Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat, said he felt “joy” at the news of a second statewide recount.
“The only way to determine the winner is a manual recount,” he said. “We know that the machines are not 100 percent accurate. Even at a 99.9 percent accuracy, out of 3 million votes, that’s a potential error of 3,000 votes.”
Locke has refused to turn over the transition office in Olympia to Rossi’s transition team. Instead, he’s given both Rossi and Gregoire small office space to organize their administrations.
“It will take time,” Locke said of the recount, “but this is about the future of the state of Washington. It’s about two competing values and two competing visions for the state of Washington.”
Munro disputes the idea that hand-counting is more accurate. If you think that, he said, pick up a ream of paper, take out some sheets and ask a few people to count it. They’ll likely come up with different answers, he said.
“Finding an accurate hand recount is not in the realm of possibility, in my mind,” he said.
Democrats, strapped for cash, had considered only seeking recounts in a few counties. But Gregoire said Thursday that she would concede the race unless Democrats agreed to count all counties.
“I don’t think she’s discouraged,” spokesman Chuck Hunter said. “She’s more worried about her staff than anything else … She believes that whoever wins this hand count is the winner of this race, bar none.”
For his part, Rossi said he’s pushing ahead with plans for his administration.
“I have faith in the voters of the state of Washington,” he said. “Christine Gregoire apparently has faith in lawyers … It’s unfortunate, sad and desperate.”
“Of course we’re nervous,” said Vance, the GOP chairman. “But I’d rather be us than them. Dino Rossi is ahead. Usually in a recount, whoever’s ahead stays ahead.”
As for the lawsuit, he said, judges usually don’t like to overrule election officials.
“I still think the most likely outcome is that Dino Rossi becomes governor,” he said.