Gregoire by 130 in recount
SEATTLE – After a bruising election and two recounts, Democrat Christine Gregoire emerged as the winner by a 130-vote margin in Washington state’s astonishingly close governor’s race.
But Republican Dino Rossi and his supporters say the election is not over yet. He won the first count by 261 votes out of 2.9 million ballots cast, then watched his lead shrink to 42 after a machine recount.
Gregoire’s lead in the statewide hand recount widened from 10 to 130 on Thursday after a state Supreme Court decision allowed King County to reconsider 732 mistakenly rejected ballots. King County, home of Seattle and a Democratic stronghold, was the last county to report final recount results on Thursday.
“The election is over,” Gregoire said at a news conference in the state Capitol Thursday night, flanked by outgoing Gov. Gary Locke. “I hope we can move forward, unite our state and address the problems our state is facing.”
Gregoire said she was not declaring victory and would not ask Rossi to concede. Outside the Capitol, dozens of Republican protesters chanted “Count all votes!”
But Gregoire urged Rossi to accept the recount results, and reached out to his supporters.
“If you cast a vote in this election, it means that you care about Washington state. That is the one thing we all have in common,” Gregoire said. “I ask you to remember that the one label that we all share is we are Washingtonians.”
Governor-elect Rossi – under law, he maintains that title until the latest recount is certified by the state – did not concede.
“I know many Washingtonians are hoping this will end soon, but I’m also sure that people across this state want a clean election and a legitimate governor-elect,” he said Thursday in an e-mailed statement. “At this point, we have neither.”
Republicans say they will continue to fight, and will ask the secretary of state to delay certifying the election so they can seek reconsideration of rejected ballots in other counties.
“This count is not over, Christine Gregoire is not the winner, and this battle goes on,” state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance said. “We believe Dino Rossi is the legitimate governor-elect of the state of Washington and we will continue fighting to protect his election.”
Since Election Day, Gregoire has gone from favorite to underdog and back to favorite. A three-term state attorney general, Gregoire, 57, was viewed as the anointed successor to Democrat Gov. Gary Locke.
Rossi, 45, a real estate agent and former state senator, jumped into the race only after the GOP’s first three choices declined to run.
Washington is a blue state – Democrats hold the majority in the Legislature, both U.S. senators are Democrats, and John Kerry won 53 percent of the statewide vote. Gregoire ran a cautious campaign, concentrating on traditional Democratic themes such as the economy, education and health care.
But Washington voters flaunt a strong independent streak, and Rossi’s sunny message of change appealed to swing voters.
Gregoire and Rossi spent about $6 million each during the campaign, a new state record, and outside groups spent millions more.
After Rossi won the first two counts, Democrats paid $730,000 for the hand recount. By law the state must repay the party if the recount reverses the results.
During the hand recount, King County officials discovered hundreds of absentee ballots had been mistakenly rejected because of problems with how the voters’ signatures had been scanned into a computer system. About 60 percent of Washington voters used absentee ballots in this election.
Over Republican objections, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that state law lets county canvassing boards correct mistakes in the returns, allowing King County to count those 732 ballots.
On Thursday morning, Republicans submitted affidavits to King County elections officials from 96 people who voted for Rossi and believe their ballots were erroneously rejected because of signature problems. They say they have identified about 250 such voters statewide.
Dean Logan, King County’s elections director and one of three members on its canvassing board, said those ballots would not be re-evaluated, because they had been properly considered and rejected.
The state GOP has put out a call for voters who had their ballots rejected, and State Chairman Chris Vance noted Thurston County had already reconvened its canvassing board to change its results after certifying its hand recount tally.
But Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, a Republican, said that happened last week, after a reporter told her of a voter who believed her ballot had been incorrectly rejected. The canvassing board met, and concluded that the ballot had been rejected by error, resulting in one more vote for Gregoire.
Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said Republicans brought in affidavits of voters Thursday who said they thought their votes had been wrongly rejected. But elections workers checked and discovered those voters’ ballots had, in fact, been counted.
Dalton, a Democrat, said she didn’t believe she could add or subtract any votes from the results the county certified without a court order.
“The only person that can order us to break the seal on those boxes is a judge,” Dalton said.
Most auditors statewide have decided no longer to reconsider ballots, said Corky Mattingly, Yakima County’s auditor and president of the Washington State Association of County Auditors.
The auditors agree with Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed, Mattingly said, that state law prohibits counties from recanvassing after their results have been certified.
“This is the end,” said Mattingly, a Democrat. “You don’t just keep recertifying and recertifying.”
Republicans have also accused King County of failing to send absentee ballots to military voters or sending them too late.
Logan said all absentee ballots were sent out on time.
“You will continue to hear accusations of fraud, of changing rules, of manufactured votes,” Logan said Thursday, addressing rumors flying on local blogs and talk radio. “I believe the record shows most of these allegations, if not all of them, are totally untrue.”
The canvassing board’s only Republican member agreed. Dan Satterberg, chief of staff for Republican King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, said the county election system has problems, but said, “I do not have any concerns about fraud. I think the people in charge here are very professional.”
Reed is scheduled to certify the election on Dec. 30. After that, state law allows any registered voter to challenge election results.
An election challenge could go to state courts or possibly to the state Legislature – experts disagree on what the law says. If the losing side alleges violations of the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution, the election could end up in federal court. Republicans have already begun preparing for a possible lawsuit.
Weeks of uncertainty have frayed Washingtonians’ nerves, and they’re dismayed that Washington could take Florida’s place as the poster child for election fiascos. Before this, Washington state politics were sedate and clean – and residents liked it that way.
“This is becoming really ridiculous,” Olympia resident Shelley Weber said at a pro-Rossi rally earlier this week, where protesters held signs comparing King County to Ukraine. “My gosh, this should have been decided seven weeks ago.”
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