Friday, December 24, 2004

Recount: Dems win Washington gov's race

County recount gives win to Democrat
GOP vows to continue fight in governor's race

(CNN) -- Democrat Christine Gregoire finished 130 votes ahead in the roller-coaster Washington governor's race after results of a hand recount including disputed ballots were released Thursday by King County.

Gregoire called on state residents to unite. But Chris Vance, the GOP state chairman, had already vowed: "This battle is not over."

Outgoing Gov. Gary Locke, a fellow Democrat, referred to Gregoire as the "apparent governor-elect" Thursday evening.

But Gregoire said she would not declare victory over Republican Dino Rossi until Washington's secretary of state certified the results of the hand recount.

"A lot of heated words have been said during this recount," she said. "But with the election coming to a close, I am confident that we can begin moving forward as one state."

The three-term state attorney general's tenuous 10-vote lead widened when she picked up 120 more votes from hundreds of ballots added to the count because of a ruling by the state Supreme Court.

King, the most populous of the state's 39 counties, was the last to complete its hand recount.

The result means that when Secretary of State Sam Reed certifies the results -- scheduled to happen next week -- Gregoire will be named governor-elect. Rossi had held that title after he was certified the winner of the first and second counts of the vote.

State law does not allow either side to ask for another recount. But the imbroglio over the closest gubernatorial election in Washington state history, which has already stretched more than seven weeks, will apparently not end.

"We believe Dino Rossi is the legitimate governor-elect of the state of Washington," Vance said in a statement. "We will continue fighting to protect his election."

Election officials in King County, which includes Seattle, announced Thursday afternoon that the disputed ballots gave Gregoire 311 more votes compared to 191 for former Republican state Sen. Rossi, for a net gain of 120 votes.

That put Gregoire's overall lead after the third tabulation of ballots at 130 votes, out of nearly 2.9 million votes cast.

Vance said the GOP now plans to ask election officials in other counties across the state to reconsider votes cast for Rossi that were rejected -- a door he said was opened when the state Supreme Court allowed King County to reconsider more than 700 ballots that election officials discovered had been left uncounted because of a computer error.

Vance said the GOP would ask Reed, a fellow Republican, to delay final certification "until we know every legitimate vote has been counted."

Republicans also have the option of going to court to formally contest the election once Reed certifies the results.

The new governor is scheduled to be inaugurated in less than three weeks, on January 12.

Locke said Rossi ran a "brilliant" campaign and the issues he raised in the campaign "must be addressed."

"Emotions are running high because we all care about this great state, and we all care about the future of our state," he said. "Both have been excellent candidates with different views and priorities, but there must be an end. Our state must come together, and we must move on with the governing of our state."
Results flip

Rossi, 44, led Gregoire by 261 votes after the initial count, a margin small enough to trigger an automatic statewide machine recount. After the second tabulation, he led by 42 votes.

But citing the narrowness of the margin, 57-year-old Gregoire refused to concede, and the state Democratic Party put up a $730,000 deposit to pay for a statewide hand recount, which put her into the lead for the first time.

Because that recount flipped the result, Democrats will get their money back and the state will pay the cost of the retabulation.

In the midst of the hand recount, election officials in King County said they discovered the some 735 absentee ballots. When they evaluated the ballots on Thursday, 566 were found to be valid and added to the count.

Republicans went to court to stop those votes from being included, arguing that their emergence was suspicious and that state law limited recounts to only those ballots that had been counted in the earlier tallies. But on Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that the disputed ballots should be added to the county's recount result.

The ballots were originally rejected because the signature on the ballot did not match the voter registration signature in King County's computer system. But Dean Logan, the county's election director, said the ballots were excluded by mistake because the voter registration signatures were never entered into the computer system.