Six months after losing the election for governor by just 129 votes, Republican Dino Rossi threw in the towel late Monday, saying that after a resounding defeat in a Wenatchee courtroom, he probably wouldn’t win an appeal to the state’s highest court.
“With today’s decision and because of the political makeup of the Washington state Supreme Court – which makes it almost impossible to overturn this ruling – I am ending the election contest,” Rossi said, speaking at his Bellevue, Wash., campaign headquarters.
“I continue to believe – and I think most Washingtonians believe – that mounting this election challenge and shining the light on the various problems in our election system was the right thing to do,” he said. He wished Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire good luck with the 31/2 years remaining in her term.
As for him, Rossi said his family has been in Washington for a century and he’s not going anywhere.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” he said, “but I have faith that tomorrow will be a better day.” He took no questions from reporters.
Rossi’s decision came only hours after Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges ruled that although there were more than 1,600 illegal votes in November’s gubernatorial election, Republicans had failed to show how any of those people had voted.
Without proof that the errors illegally had robbed Rossi of victory, the judge said Monday, his hands were tied by the state’s election laws.
“Irregularity … is not sufficient to invalidate an election,” said Bridges. He criticized the mistakes but upheld Gregoire’s narrow win and even improved it slightly. He raised the margin to 133 votes based on the testimony of four felons who said they had illegally voted for Rossi.
“Unless an election is clearly invalid, when the people have spoken, their verdict should not be disturbed by the courts,” the judge said.
Sitting in the courtroom, state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt called the Wenatchee trial “a slam-dunk.”
“I couldn’t believe how poorly they (Republicans) put their case together,” Berendt said. “I don’t see where that ruling gave them an inch to try and appeal.”
Berendt said that the Democrats have spent $3.5 million on the research and legal fight since Election Day.
Both sides looked uneasy before the ruling in Wenatchee.
At the Republican table, GOP attorney Robert Maguire could be heard saying to fellow Republican lawyer Harry Korrell, “Look confident, Harry.” But as the judge read, Republican attorneys slumped.
Democrats’ attorneys – who had already chilled their champagne at a local lawyer’s office – were jubilant. When the judge left, they gave each other high-fives and gleefully posed for photos with a 4-foot-tall mockup of Gregoire’s election certificate.
Republicans in the audience were dismayed.
“Truly, no one really knows who won this election,” said former House Speaker Clyde Ballard, an East Wenatchee native.
Throughout the nine-day trial, Republicans maintained that the illegal votes and mistakes verged on “fraud” and “ballot-stuffing.”
It would be preposterous, they said, to put 1,400 felons on the stand and ask each how they voted.
“It’s completely untrustworthy,” Korrell said. “We’re talking about felons. How could you believe it?”
Plus, he said, Republicans didn’t want to violate the secrecy of the ballot by trying to make people say how they voted.
Instead, they based their case on a controversial theory called proportional deduction. It assumes that the felons voted the same way their neighbors did. If a felon came from a strong Gregoire precinct, Republicans argued, the odds are good that that felon voted for Gregoire.
But Democratic expert witnesses – and the judge – said that Republicans couldn’t simply assume that felons voted like their neighbors. For one thing, most felons are men, and Rossi did better among men than among women.
In fact, Democrats questioned five of the felons. Four said they voted for Rossi; one said he voted for Libertarian Ruth Bennett. Judge Bridges deducted those votes from Rossi and Bennett on Monday.
In his ruling, the judge noted that Republicans had asked him to use his powers to send a message to election officials.
“I’m going to decline that invitation,” Bridges said. “This court is not in a position to fix the deficiencies in the election process that we heard about in this courtroom in the past nine days.”
There clearly are problems, the judge said. But “it’s the voters who should send the message,” he said.
He also blasted what King County elections official Dean Logan described as the “culture” he found when he took over two years ago.
“Almost anyone who works in state or local government knows exactly what this culture is,” the judge said. “It’s inertia. It’s selfishness. It’s taking our paycheck but not doing the work. … It’s not taking responsibility. It’s about refusing to be held accountable.”
The judge also criticized Republicans, saying that despite their allegations of fraud and ballot-stuffing, they’d been unable to prove any.
“There is no evidence that the ballots were changed, the ballot box stuffed, or that lawful votes were removed from either candidate’s ballot box,” he said.
Logan said Monday that the agency “can and will do better.”
“We will take the next three months to carefully examine and address decades-old elections problems which have plagued this organization,” Logan said in a written statement. “Rest assured, we have learned from our mistakes.”
Outside the courtroom, former House Speaker Ballard was profoundly skeptical.
“They’re not going to change,” Ballard said. The judge’s criticism, he said, “will be like rain hitting the back of a duck. They’re impervious.”
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