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Rossi still holding on to slim lead

Sat., Nov. 13, 2004, midnight

OLYMPIA – Eleven days after Election Day, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi continues to hold a narrow lead over Democrat Christine Gregoire.

Democrats, however, scored a big victory in court Friday. That win could add hundreds more votes for Gregoire.

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, Rossi led with 1,920 votes out of nearly 2.7 million cast. There are still believed to be more than 40,000 potential votes to be counted. Some are arriving late in the mail; others have glitches such as voters forgetting to sign them. Election officials – and volunteers for both Democrats and Republicans – are rushing to track down those people and get them to fix the flaws. The deadline for all election results to be certified is next Wednesday.

King County Superior Court Judge Dean Lum on Friday ordered King County election officials to turn over the names of more than 800 of the county’s voters. All cast “provisional ballots” which were not counted, often because the signature on the ballot envelope didn’t look enough like the official voter signature in county files. If that happens with a normal mail-in ballot, the county will try to notify the person so they can fix it. But with a flawed provisional ballot, King County just posts a ballot receipt number on a county Web site.

Saying state law favors open government, Judge Lum gave the county one hour to turn over the names of those uncounted voters to the Democratic Party.

In tears over the high-stakes victory, Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said volunteers will work through the weekend, rushing to track down those voters and get them to fix their ballot problems by Wednesday’s deadline.

“We have one objective: count every vote,” Berendt had said earlier in the day. Republicans are doing the same thing in counties that voted strongly for Rossi.

Although the court case adds a new wrinkle to the voting calculus, if the trends in absentee voting continue, Rossi has a slight edge to win the race.

Both parties remain white-knuckled, since control of the agenda in Olympia rides on it. If Gregoire wins, Democrats will control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, giving them a chance to pursue changes in health care, education and other arenas that Republicans balked at, due to costs.

If Republicans win, they’ll be counting on Rossi – a business-minded conservative – to throw out agency heads who are “unfriendly” to business and to use his veto pen to overrule some of what Democrats want to do.

Before the court hearing Friday, Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance blasted the lawsuit, saying Gregoire “is resorting to desperate legal tactics that will drag this election process into court, just as the Democratic Party did in Florida four years ago.

“They’re behind, and they’re grasping at straws,” he said.

At an earlier news conference in Seattle, the Democrats were flanked by representatives of black, Hispanic and other minority groups.

“We would like to see those people given every opportunity to claim their votes and step forward. Otherwise it will discourage people from voting in the future,” Oscar Eason Jr., president of the NAACP’s Alaska, Oregon and Washington state conference, said in a phone interview.

The mad scramble to round up every possible vote continues a cliffhanger of a race. For most of the week after Election Day, Gregoire – a well-known three-term state attorney general – led Rossi.

On Tuesday, buoyed by votes from rural, conservative counties, Rossi narrowly took the lead. He’s held it for five days.

At the closest point during Friday’s vote-counting – right after King County’s numbers were tabulated – Rossi’s lead was just 361 votes out of 2.6 million. That’s a difference of just one-one-hundredth of a percent.

The wait could continue past Wednesday, however. If the numbers finally settle with a difference of less than half a percent and 2,000 votes, state law requires a mandatory recount of all the votes.


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