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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Sunday Spin: No comparison between Trump claims and Rossi loss

Donald Trump’s claims that the 2016 election may be rigged made me shudder, and not just because he was implying the nation’s electoral process was about on par with a Banana Republic. 

Primarily, I shuddered in anticipation of the reaction to the story I would write about the views of elections officials in Washington and Idaho, who could be counted on to defend our voting processes. That reaction was as predictable as it was swift: 

What about the election that was stolen from Dino Rossi?

Sure enough, last week’s story that prospects of “rigging” Washington or Idaho election were somewhere between highly improbable and next to impossible generated reader calls and comments citing the 2004 gubernatorial election as proof that Trump is right.

No, it isn’t. No way. Not even close.

For those who have forgotten or weren’t around 12 years ago, Republican Rossi and Democrat Chris Gregoire were running for the open governor’s seat. Gregoire had the early edge on name identification, but Rossi developed into a good campaigner and came on strong in the final two weeks. He was ahead on election night, she was ahead the next day, it went back and forth for two weeks and in the final canvass Rossi was up by 261 votes.

That triggered a statute-required automatic machine recount, under the watchful eyes of both party’s observers. This left Rossi ahead by 42.That triggered a hand recount. During the recounts, several counties – not just King County – discovered some ballots that had been properly cast, but not counted. The political parties went to court, all the way to the Supremes, in a fight over what to do with them. 

The court ruled that since the voters had done everything right, but the counties had made the mistakes, they should be counted. They were and Gregoire finished that last recount ahead by 129.

The state Republican Party sued. They chose an Eastern Washington venue, Chelan County, for the trial, and in May the state’s political cognoscenti encamped in Wenatchee for two weeks to hear charges and counter charges of corruption, manipulation, ballots cast by corpses and felons voting.

In the end, the Republicans couldn’t prove any of their claims. Democrats found a few felons who thought they were eligible to vote, but cast a ballot when they legally shouldn’t have. They said they voted for Rossi. (Big surprise, as the state’s attorney general at the time, Gregoire was the state’s chief law enforcement officer).

The judge deducted four votes from Rossi’s total, and it was done. Gregoire by 133 votes out of 2.7 million cast.

So to recap, there was no talk of conspiracy or vote rigging before the election. Questionable ballots came from all over the state, including counties that went heavily for Rossi. The ballots were pored over by partisan watchdogs for the recount. The questioned ballots were decided by the Supreme Court and the final result subjected to a two-week trial in pro-GOP territory with no proof of felonious chicanery. 

That is not remotely like what Trump is alleging. The only similarity is that just as Republicans have been casting aspersions on the nation’s voting procedures for a couple of decades by demanding stricter ID laws, the Washington GOP and other Rossi sympathizers have been lowering public confidence in their state’s election process for 12 years by saying he really won that election.

But he didn’t. And he didn’t win the rematch in 2008, either. So maybe everyone can just stop claiming the 2004 election was stolen from Dino Rossi. If anything, it's an example of the system working, even if it takes time and delivers a result you don't like.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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