Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire was officially named governor-elect yesterday, quickly declared victory and said "an election night without end has concluded. " But the election...

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OLYMPIA — Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire was officially named governor-elect yesterday, quickly declared victory and said “an election night without end has concluded.” But the election she won could still be fought in court, and the state’s chief election official said he can’t be sure Gregoire will still hold the title when inauguration day comes.

Republican candidate Dino Rossi said conceding now, 58 days and three counts after the election, would be “a disservice to the people of Washington.”

Minutes after signing certificates to name Gregoire as governor-elect, Secretary of State Sam Reed was asked if he was confident she would be sworn in as scheduled Jan. 12.

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“You know,” he said, “I don’t have enough information at this time to be able to make an educated guess because I do not know what will be brought forward in terms of contesting the election.”

As has been the case since Election Day, much of the attention is focused on King County. Republicans are asking questions about why the county’s list of registered voters who cast valid ballots in the election shows about 3,500 fewer people than the total number of votes certified in the race.

They also continue to search for military voters who say their ballots either didn’t arrive overseas in time for the election or weren’t counted when the votes were returned home. Rossi appeared at a news conference with the parents of a Marine serving in Iraq who got his ballot the day after the election.

Little in this race has been predictable.

It became the closest statewide election in Washington history, saw the first 39-county hand recount and is the first statewide race to be overturned by a recount.

“In the beginning this was an election about many issues, but in the end the election itself became the biggest issue,” Gregoire said yesterday.

On Wednesday, Rossi asked Gregoire to agree to a runoff election, saying the results were in doubt and voters had lost confidence in the election. She rejected that.

Republicans’ work now is aimed at gathering enough evidence to challenge the validity of the election in court under the state’s “contested election” law. That allows a judge to nullify an election if enough problems are found to put the true outcome of the race in doubt. The court also has the authority to call for a new election, though that has never been done in a statewide contest.

Those prospects hung over the brief signing ceremony Reed held in his office.

Reed, a Republican, said the election was fair. He said there were serious errors during the initial count and two recounts, but that the system worked well and those problems were fixed.

“I do not feel that this is a botched election,” he said.

“Anytime something is this close and you put the magnifying glass on the election, you are going to see some of the warts in the system and some of the glitches.”

Gregoire spoke to reporters and a small group of supporters in the official state reception room, the most ornate room in the Legislative Building. She stood with her husband, Mike, and two daughters, Michelle and Courtney.

She did not qualify her declaration of victory.

“The bottom line is the election is over,” she said. “Today we have a governor-elect. It’s time to move forward, and I am prepared to take on the people’s work.”

STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Secretary of State Sam Reed talks to reporters yesterday after certifying the gubernatorial election recount in his office in Olympia. Reed, a Republican, said, “I do not feel that this is a botched election.”

While Rossi said he won two of the three counts, Gregoire pointed out, “The winner was only when the manual recount was done and that was today.”

That’s Reed’s position, too.

But the issue of the mismatched numbers in King County came as a surprise to him. And while he said some discrepancy is not unusual as counties reconcile records after an election, the number in King County is large enough that he sent a staff member to investigate.

“This is exactly the kind of issue that I think can be brought up in the contested-election statutes,” Reed said.

But why did he certify the election if the numbers are in doubt?

“What I signed was a certification for the numbers that were submitted to us by the counties,” he said. “I am not in a judicial or an investigative role here.”

The latest questions about King County came after the elections office released on Wednesday a list of all registered voters in the county, broken down by those who voted and those who didn’t. The Republican Party, among other groups, had requested the information as part of its investigation of voting irregularities.

Conservative blogger Stefan Sharkansky pointed out the discrepancy Wednesday, and by yesterday it was Topic A among Rossi backers and Republican Party officials.

Party Chairman Chris Vance said it could be the “smoking gun” needed to overturn the election.

The number of King County ballots counted in the final tally was 899,199 — 3,539 more than the number of participating voters reported in the county’s list.

County elections officials said they are examining the data to resolve the discrepancy. An updated voter list will be released by the end of next week, they said.

King County Elections Director Dean Logan said it is not unusual to find a discrepancy that must be reconciled through a painstaking comparison of computer data and other records after votes are counted. He said that two recounts have meant the county could not do that work as quickly as usual.

But the discrepancy in this election appears to be larger than usual.

“I think historically the data has never been reconciled 100 percent between ballots cast and the voters given credit for voting,” Logan said. “I think 3,500 is higher than what I’m comfortable with. … I would be less concerned if we were in the range of 1,000 or 1,200.”

And he thinks the problem will be rectified.

Logan explained part of the discrepancy by saying the voter list doesn’t include two categories of voters: domestic-violence victims whose addresses are confidential and military or overseas voters who cast ballots under special rules. He estimated the number of those votes at between 100 and 200 for each category.

That leaves most of the 3,539-vote discrepancy unexplained.

Rossi said his campaign asked for the list almost a month ago and the county had plenty of time to update its records.

“You shouldn’t be able to certify an election with 3,500 mystery votes,” he said.

Rossi and Vance said they haven’t decided whether to contest the election in court. But they both said yesterday that work continues in that vein and they realize the difficulty of having the election nullified.

“That’s why we believe we’ll have to have a very strong case,” Rossi said. “If nothing else, we’ll learn a lot about our election procedures and the things that need to change.”

Reed yesterday thanked Washington voters for their patience through three vote counts.

Vance said they’ll have to hang on a little longer.

“We’ve got to put something together that is rock, rock solid,” he said. “It’s going to take awhile; everybody needs to be patient.”

Seattle Times staff reporters Keith Ervin and Ralph Thomas contributed to this report. David Postman: 360-943-9882 or dpostman@seattletimes.com