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Wednesday, December 22, 2004  

News: Gregoire 'wins' recount by 8 votes

The Democrats say Christine Gregoire is the new governor of Washington. They say that eight of the 2.9 million votes cast determined the ultimate outcome.

OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON --The head of the state Democratic Party said late Tuesday that recount results from King County give Democrat Christine Gregoire an eight-vote victory in the closest governor's race in state history.

Neither King County nor the Republican Party could confirm the results Tuesday night.

Republican Dino Rossi won the first count by 261 votes and won a machine recount by 42 votes.

"We're confident Christine Gregoire has been elected the governor of the state of Washington," Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt said.

IRONY. I have typed the word in capitals because there is so much of it. Throughout the post-Nov. 2 confusion, Gregoire, the state's longtime attorney general, has said her preference was that all ballots be recounted, including those rejected for procedural reasons. The Supreme Court of Washington agreed with the Republicans, ruling that only votes previously considered could be recounted. Otherwise, the jurists said, the state would be 'recanvassing,' not recounting. Now, with a tinier margin than ever, the GOP may try to change its tune. Even if only the 700 or so ballots King County failed to count because of worker error were added to the tally, Rossi might have maintained or increased his previous 42-vote lead. If other rejected ballots had been considered, that would have had a much higher probability. Fearful that the Democrats would profit by either scenario, the Republicans opposed both. They said that recounting those ballots would mean changing the rules near the end of the game. I do not necessarily disagree with the high court's ruling. As I said in a previous entry, there are good legal reasons for the result.

I expected this outcome. The Supreme Court needed to be convinced of a major failure of the ballot counting procedure. Otherwise, the justices would not intervene in a legislative function -- establishing the criteria for voting and counting ballots. If the Democrats are serious, the appropriate response is to clarify state law in regard to the areas of the process that they consider inadequate presently. They should bring these concerns to the legislature.

But, I believe the ballots that fell victim to employee error in King County should be counted. They may not fall within the rule against re-canvassing. That argument was heard in court today as Democrats challenge a restraining order against counting those ballots. The Olympian reports.

At issue are 573 ballots mistakenly rejected by the King County canvassing board and 162 ballots that apparently had been misplaced in that county.

The number of votes is just enough that it could tip the election in favor of Democrat Christine Gregoire, who trailed Republican governor-elect Dino Rossi by just 42 votes after the first recount, done by machine. A statewide hand count of ballots is under way and could wrap up Wednesday when King County, a Gregoire stronghold, is expected to finish its tally.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend on Friday granted the state Republican Party's request for a temporary restraining order preventing the tabulation of additional votes. Arend cited a recent Supreme Court ruling in declaring it was too late to consider the disputed ballots and that a recount includes only ballots previously tabulated.

The state Democratic Party, King County elections department and Secretary of State's Office all have appealed, contending state law does allow local elections boards, called canvassing boards, to fix errors.

The ultimate irony will be if the GOP adopts the Democrats' former argument in future litigation: If any additonal ballots are counted, all of them should be.

Is Christine Gregoire the governor of Washington? Time -- and the courts -- will tell.

Update: ABC News reports the Washington Supreme Court has ruled that the 700-plus ballots missed because of employee error in King County can be counted. Gregoire has carried the large, urban county by a wide margin previously.

9:30 PM