OLYMPIA – Preliminary recount results give Democrat Christine Gregoire an eight-vote victory statewide in the governor’s race, the head of the state Democratic Party said late Tuesday after crunching recount data supplied by King County.
Neither King County nor the state Republican Party could confirm the hand recount results on Tuesday night.
But if the Democrats’ analysis is correct, the Democrat stronghold of King County has handed Gregoire a stunning reversal of fortune.
Republican Dino Rossi won the first count by 261 votes and won a machine recount by 42 votes out of 2.9 million ballots cast.
King County, the state’s largest, is the last to finish its hand recount.
“We’re confident Christine Gregoire has been elected the governor of the state of Washington,” Berendt said. “I believe Dino Rossi should concede.”
Berendt and Democratic party officials concluded that Gregoire would win by a razor-thin margin after crunching numbers supplied by King County. The county has finished recounting its 900,000 ballots, but election officials said they still need to reconcile differences in the precinct totals.
“We are not releasing our results until (today) at 3:30 p.m.,” said King County Elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan, who confirmed that both parties received the recount data on Tuesday.
Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane said Republicans are looking at the data also but have not drawn any conclusions.
“It’s just too close to call,” Lane said.
Rossi has said he may challenge the election results in court if he loses the hand recount after winning the first two counts.
“We will keep our options open,” Lane said earlier Tuesday.
State law allows any registered voter to contest the election if he or she believes there were mistakes in how the votes were counted.
No one ever expected the election to be this close.
Gregoire, 57, a three-term attorney general, was the favorite going into the election against Rossi, 45, a real estate agent and former state senator. But as the election results came in, followed by the recount results, it became clear that Rossi’s message of change had struck a chord with independent voters.
Berendt said Democrats will continue to fight to allow King County to include 723 newly discovered ballots in the recount. The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in a lawsuit over those ballots this morning.
The question before the court is whether or not King County should be allowed to add ballots to the recount even though they weren’t included in the first two counts because of mistakes made by county election workers.
A Pierce County judge on Friday granted the state Republican Party’s motion for a temporary restraining order to stop King County from counting those newly discovered ballots. King County, the state Democratic Party and the secretary of state appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.
Unless the Pierce County order is reversed, the state Democratic Party’s brief says, “Voters will be disenfranchised through no fault of their own.”
The Republicans’ brief argues the real harm will come if the court allows King County to include those newly discovered ballots in the recount so long after the election: “To achieve finality, the Legislature drew a line and Petitioners again ask this court to erase it.”
Seven justices will hear the case. Three of the regular nine justices are out of town on previously scheduled trips, and one temporary judge will join the court.
About 350 people gathered Tuesday to show support for Rossi in front of the Supreme Court at a rally sponsored by KVI, a conservative talk-radio station.
The crowd chanted, “No more fraud!” They held signs saying “Welcome to Ukraine” and wore orange, a tribute to the signature color of demonstrators in Ukraine who protested a fraud-marred election there.
“They need to end it here. This is becoming really ridiculous,” said Shelley Weber of Olympia, a part-time school district worker who wore an orange hunting vest and carried a Republican Party flag. But she said Rossi should sue if he loses the third vote count.
“He has a good case, and he needs to fight for what is right,” Weber said.
A friend stopped to tell Weber the latest Washington election joke:
“Orange we done yet?”
With legal challenges looming, Washington may be far from done with its governor’s election.