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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Revote fight gets under way

Richard Roesler Staff writer

OLYMPIA – At 8:30 this morning, in a former church in downtown Wenatchee, a rural judge will convene one of the most unusual hearings in the political history of Washington state.

At issue: Republicans’ attempt to force a statewide revote in the governor’s race, which Democrat Christine Gregoire won last month by just 129 votes out of nearly 2.9 million.

“They (Democrats) will be arguing to dismiss the whole thing and we’ll be saying no, no, no,” said state Republican Party spokeswoman Mary Lane.

At least 16 lawyers will be there, representing the state’s two main political parties and each of Washington’s 39 counties. Another 15 lawyers are slated to take part by phone. To accommodate the crowd of political observers, consultants, reporters and curious public, Chelan County Superior Court Judge John E. Bridges will hold the hearing not in his courtroom, but in a county-owned auditorium.

“It’s sort of a logistical nightmare for us,” said Fona Sugg, secretary for the judges. “Everything else on our desks is piling up.”

The hearing – Round One in what could turn into a weeks-long legal fight – is slated to take half a day today. Hundreds of pages of legal briefs have been filed with the court.

Republicans are trying to prove that election errors throw into doubt the winner of the race. If they can show 129 votes that were illegal or otherwise wrongly counted, they say, the state should have another election. Republicans say they’ve found evidence suggesting that nine people who were listed as dead and 37 felons may have voted, and that 10 people apparently voted twice. They want to compare a state criminal records database against the lists of the nearly 3 million people who voted in the race.

“Petitioners believe that the number of illegal votes counted and the number of valid votes improperly rejected in this election are so great as to render the true result of the election uncertain and likely unknowable,” Republicans wrote in one legal filing.

A cloud will hang over the governor’s office, they say, and the only way to fix that is a revote.

Democrats say that Republicans’ voluminous requests for information from county elections offices are merely an expensive wild-goose chase. They say that releasing the state’s 1.2-million-person criminal record database would be an invasion of voters’ right to privacy.

“Do we now tell Washington residents in order to vote they have to submit to a background check? Do we really want political parties to have these files?” Paul Berendt, state Democratic Party chairman, said last week.

“This is a fishing expedition. The Republicans have filed a mountain of legal documents and they don’t even have a molehill of evidence of fraud,” said Democratic spokeswoman Kirstin Brost. “There’s not one piece of evidence that (Republican gubernatorial candidate) Dino Rossi won this election, and that’s the fundamental principle” of contesting an election.

State and local election officials concede that there were some errors in the election, but Democrats maintain that such errors were “miniscule,” as Brost put it.

Spokane County, which, like every other county, is named as a defendant in the Republicans’ suit, wants the judge to throw out the case.

“This race is no different than any other election we’ve ever had,” said Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton. “It’s just a close race. … Even if we have a revote, how will it be any different? We’re still going to have the same risks, the same potential for errors. We’ll still have human mistakes. So what’s the point?”

As for the candidates, Gregoire was sworn in last week as governor and has been hiring a Cabinet and building a state budget proposal. On Wednesday, at her first gubernatorial press conference, she said she’d focus on running the state and leave the revote fight to the lawyers.

“I cannot be distracted by it. There is far too much to be done,” she said. “I have told everyone in my administration we will not be distracted. We will move forward. We have an obligation. I am governor of this state.”

As for Rossi, he’s attending an inauguration – but not his own. He’s in Washington, D.C., today, attending Inauguration Day parties for President George W. Bush.