Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Judge Upholds Democrat's Win in Washington

ABC News
Judge Upholds Democrat's Win in Washington
Judge Upholds Democrat's Win in Race for Governor of Washington State; Republican Ends Challenge
The Associated Press

Jun. 7, 2005 - Gov. Christine Gregoire said she burst into tears in her office, surrounded by her senior staff, after watching a judge 125 miles away uphold her victory in last fall's governor's election, ending the legal fight over the closest gubernatorial race in U.S. history.

"It's an emotional day, it's an emotional moment," said Gregoire, a Democrat who has held office for five months under a cloud of uncertainty. "I'm ready to move on. I want the state of Washington to be served by a full-time governor who is not being distracted by anything other than serving the citizens."

Defeated GOP candidate Dino Rossi said he would not appeal.

"With today's decision, and because of the political makeup of the Washington State Supreme Court, which makes it almost impossible to overturn this ruling, I am ending the election contest," Rossi said at his campaign headquarters in Bellevue.

The election decided by an amazingly narrow margin of 129 votes out of 2.9 million cast included 1,678 illegally cast ballots, Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges found.

But in a ruling issued in his Wenatchee courtroom, Bridges rejected GOP claims that the election was stolen through errors and fraud, and said Republicans had failed to prove that Rossi would have won had the illegal votes been disregarded.

"Unless an election is clearly invalid, when the people have spoken their verdict should not be disturbed by the courts," Bridges said. Nullifying the election, he said, would be "the ultimate act of judicial egotism and judicial activism."

The judge threw out only a few illegally cast votes, which raised Gregoire's margin of victory to 133.

The Republicans were hoping the judge would nullify the election and then either declare Rossi the winner outright or open the way for a new election in the fall.

"I continue to believe that mounting this election challenge, and shining the lights on the various problems of our election system, was the right thing to do," Rossi said at a late afternoon news conference.

It's been widely speculated that Rossi will run for the U.S. Senate next year, if not governor in 2008. But he offered no clues Monday, saying "I'm definitely not going anywhere ... We'll see you again."

Rossi, a real estate agent and former state senator, was considered a long shot last November against Gregoire, who was Washington's attorney general.

Rossi won the first count by 261 votes, then watched his lead shrink to 42 in a machine recount. In a hand recount completed in late December, Gregoire was pronounced the winner by 129 votes the smallest margin of victory in percentage terms of any statewide election in the nation's history. Five days before Gregoire's inauguration, Rossi sued to contest the election.

Since then, Washington's residents have awaited the final word on their governor.

Preschool teacher Karen Servey, 54, was in the state Capitol leading a school trip tour when she heard of the judge's ruling.

"I was relieved," she said, sitting in the Senate's public gallery. "I think it would have cost the taxpayers a lot of money to go through another election process."

Shaun Gravatte, who also voted for Gregoire, disagreed. "It was too close," he said. "Of course there should be a revote."

Monday's ruling came after a two-week trial that turned over flaws and quirks in election departments around the state.

The Republicans argued that large numbers of votes were illegally cast by felons or cast in the names of dead people; that there were errors in the counting of ballots; and that there was stuffing of the ballot box and destruction of ballots. They concentrated their attacks on Seattle's heavily Democratic King County, the state's most populous.

While Republicans characterized the problems as "sinister," Democrats described them as innocent mistakes that happen in every county, in every election.

Bridges acknowledged that the state's election system is flawed, but said he's not the person to fix it.

"The voters are in a position to demand of their legislative and executive bodies that remedial measures be taken immediately," he said.

On the Net:

Video of the trial is available at: http://www.tvw.org