After six months of legal wrangling and two weeks of trial, the 2004 race for governor of Washington state mercifully has ended.
Kudos to Republican candidate Dino Rossi for facing reality. MRI machines afford more wiggle room than was left by Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges after he tossed out Rossi’s election challenge on Monday. Bridges not only dismissed the petition with prejudice, but he also did so in such excruciating detail that a successful appeal would have been a long shot.
Throughout the controversy, Rossi supporters have implied that the election was stolen and that fraud led to the election of Democrat Christine Gregoire (whom they often called “Fraudoire”).
But that’s not the case that was made by Rossi’s attorneys. They subscribed to the “total mess” argument. Bridges addressed that when he noted there were irregularities, “as there appears to be in every election,” but, he added, “not clear and convincing evidence that improper conduct or irregularities procured Ms. Gregoire’s election to the office of governor.”
“There is no evidence that ballots were changed, the ballot box stuffed or that lawful votes were removed from either candidate’s ballot box,” the judge said.
Bridges determined that illegal votes were cast but noted there was “no evidence” (a phrase he repeated over and over) that any of those voters even made a selection in the governor’s race, let alone selected Gregoire.
Additionally, he torpedoed the Rossi camp’s hopes that those votes would be deducted based upon proportional deduction. That theory calls for subtracting illegal votes by felons based upon how others in the same precinct voted. Bridges said the expert witnesses who touted the theory used an incomplete total of illegal votes. He even explained how deducting votes in such a manner would have taken a vote from Gregoire in the case of a felon who testified that he had voted for Rossi.
None of this is to say the state, and particularly King County, should be proud of the way the election was conducted last fall. Bridges came down hard on the work culture at the King County Elections Department: “It’s inertia, it’s selfishness, it’s taking our paycheck but not doing the work.”
But state elections law is clear on what grounds an election can be overturned. Messiness is not one of them. If everyone had done his or her job properly, would Rossi be governor today? The answer is unknowable. That’s why it was wise for Rossi to end this now rather than take his challenge to the state Supreme Court.
The election challenge has triggered some sensible reforms, but the bottom line is that the election was not stolen and that Rossi was not the victim of fraud.
It’s time for partisan sniping to end and for healing to begin.
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