Counting Every Vote: Patience Results in Legitimate Results in Washington

New York Times

Democrat Wins by 130 in Latest Washington Count

SEATTLE, Dec. 23 – With all the votes tallied after a recount in the roller coaster race for governor, Christine O. Gregoire, the Democrat who trailed in the campaign and in a previous recount, won by 130 votes as battered Republicans demanded more vote counting and vowed to use every legal weapon to reverse the extraordinary turnaround.

The Republican candidate, Dino Rossi, 45, won the Nov. 2 election in the initial count by 261 votes and a machine recount by 42 votes. But a statewide hand recount completed Thursday gave Ms. Gregoire, 57, a microscopic but notable lead out of the 2.9 million votes cast, according to official results released Thursday. Newly counted ballots from King County, a heavily Democratic area that includes Seattle, turned the 10-vote lead Ms. Gregoire held before the latest official results into a commanding but narrow edge.

“This is the biggest display of democracy that I have ever seen,” Ms. Gregoire, the state attorney general, said at a televised news conference Thursday evening at the State Capitol in Olympia, which was ringed by Republican protestors shouting “count all the votes!”

“The election is over,” she said. “I hope we can move forward, unite our state and address the problems we are facing.”

But an end was anything but certain, as Republicans made it clear that they did not consider the results a legitimate victory for Ms. Gregoire and said they were already considering contesting the election.

Mr. Rossi, in a written statement issued Thursday night, said, “I know many Washingtonians are hoping this will end soon, but I’m also sure that people across this state want a clean election and a legitimate governor-elect. At this point, we have neither.”

Taking a page from their counterparts in Florida in 2000, state Republicans quickly alleged that the votes of soldiers stationed overseas were among hundreds of rejected votes for Mr. Rossi, a former state senator, and should now be counted.

They argued that since the State Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed erroneously rejected and newly discovered votes in King County to be counted, the rejected ballots of soldiers who may have missed deadlines because of their duties should be re-examined as well.

“If you can change the rules for the chairman of the King County Council,” said Chris Vance, chairman of the state Republican Party, referring to Larry Phillips, a Democratic councilman whose vote was among the 735 ballots reviewed in King County on Thursday, “then you can change the rules for a marine wounded in Falluja.”

Mr. Vance said one of the rejected votes for Mr. Rossi was cast by a marine wounded in Falluja whose absentee ballot was received late.

Republicans said they knew of the soldiers’ uncounted ballots by hearing from their families that ballots were either not received by them on time or did not make it back to Washington in time from overseas.

Still, Democrats were claiming victory and not hiding their delight.

“We believe that Chris Gregoire is going to be the next governor,” said Kirstin Brost, spokeswoman for the Washington State Democratic Party. “We believe she is the governor-elect, and we are looking forward to her taking office.”

Republican officials, accompanied by five veterans waving American flags, went into a meeting of the King County Canvassing Board on Thursday and lobbied the board to consider almost 100 rejected ballots for Mr. Rossi in King County.

The board refused to review those votes and 100 others submitted by the Democrats, but Republicans fanned out across the state Thursday lobbying dozens of counties to go back and consider previously rejected ballots. With the election results now certified by all 39 counties and no more recounts legally allowed, legal experts and officials with the Washington secretary of state’s office said state election law would not permit the counties to reconsider any ballots now. But Republicans were steadfast on Thursday and pointed to Thurston County, which had reviewed and counted one ballot after certifying results, saying that action allowed them to ask the other counties to do the same.

In a statement issued Thursday evening Mr. Vance said that several counties agreed on Thursday to “seriously consider” re-examining votes and that he had asked for a delay in the final certification. “We believe Dino Rossi is the legitimate governor-elect of the State of Washington,” he said. “And we will continue fighting to protect his election.”

Thurston County officials said they had interpreted state election law to mean that they could re-evaluate votes until the secretary of state certified the results submitted by the counties; the results of the recount completed on Thursday are expected to be certified on Dec. 30.

But others, including officials in the secretary of state’s office, said the law made it clear that all ballots must be reviewed and counted before a county certifies its results.

The secretary of state, Sam Reed, a Republican, told county auditors on Thursday that counting ballots could not continue after the results were certified and that any challenges should be pursued through the courts, officials in his office said. With King County’s election results announced on Thursday, all 39 counties have now certified their results.

“In our viewpoint, we have elected a governor,” said Trova Hutchins, a spokeswoman for Mr. Reed.

Meanwhile, Republicans said they were also weighing other legal options, which could include contesting the election in court, asking the United States Supreme Court to review the decision on the King County ballots made by the State Supreme Court or asking the State Legislature to order a whole new vote.

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