Monday, December 20, 2004

Judge limits counting in Washington state governor's race

Judge limits counting in Washington state governor's race

SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- A judge Friday sided with the Washington state Republican Party in deciding to block the counting of more than 700 uncounted ballots in the governor's race, which the GOP candidate is winning by a few dozen votes.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend said it is too late for King County to reconsider the newly discovered ballots now. Other ballot counting will continue through the weekend.

Democratic spokeswoman Kirsten Brost said Democrats are appealing to the state Supreme Court, and don't believe Arend's decision will stand.

"How can you tell someone their vote matters when you throw away hundreds of ballots because the government made a mistake?" she asked.

King County officials said they will not certify the election results until the high court hears the case.

Republicans applauded Arend's decision, saying justice was served.

Republican Dino Rossi won the November 2 election over Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire by 261 votes in the first count and by 42 after a machine recount of the 2.9 million votes cast.

Another 162 ballots have been identified as misfiled or not previously counted in the contest. Earlier, King County elections director Dean Logan said 573 ballots were mistakenly rejected.

Gregoire is seeking to overturn Rossi's narrow victory in two earlier ballot counts.

Officials said they believe the new 162 ballots were rejected because workers could not find a signature that corresponded to them.

Friday afternoon, Republicans filed a restraining order in Pierce County Superior Court asking that the hand recount be halted.

Washington State Democrats Chair Paul Berendt called it "upsetting that a clerical mistake could have robbed hundreds of citizens of their right to vote. This is exactly why we needed a statewide hand count, and exactly why the law says county canvassing boards have until the final certification to fix mistakes just like this."

He added, "More upsetting is that now, Republicans say we should throw these ballots away so they can win by mistake. They want to throw out votes for no reason other than their political success."

Rossi led Gregoire by 261 votes statewide after the first ballot count, a margin small enough to trigger a mandatory machine recount. That retabulation narrowed his margin to 42 votes out of the nearly 2.9 million cast, and Secretary of State Sam Reed certified him as governor-elect. The Democratic Party then put up a $730,000 deposit to pay for a statewide hand recount.

The inauguration of the new governor -- whoever it turns out to be -- is set for January 12.

CNN Correspondent Kimberly Osias contributed to this report.