It took three counts of nearly 3 million ballots, four lawsuits, seven weeks and discovery of a series of embarrassing mistakes in King County, but Democrat Christine Gregoire...

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It took three counts of nearly 3 million ballots, four lawsuits, seven weeks and discovery of a series of embarrassing mistakes in King County, but Democrat Christine Gregoire yesterday won the race for governor by 130 votes over Republican Dino Rossi.

The hand recount — the final count allowed by law — ended yesterday when King County tallied 566 disputed ballots. As Republicans feared, the final votes went heavily for Gregoire and added to the 10-vote lead she had held when the day began.

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Like so much in this race where the unprecedented becomes precedent — already it’s the closest governor’s race in state history, Washington’s first statewide hand recount and the first time any recount reversed a statewide election — the fight will continue right through any victory parties Gregoire has planned.

More lawsuits are possible, as is a full-scale legal attack by Republicans that could lead to a new election.

Gregoire said at a news conference in the Capitol last night she would not declare victory until the election is certified next week.

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

Gregoire did not call on Rossi to concede, but said she would have conceded if she were the one who had lost the manual recount.

When she was 261 votes behind Rossi after the first count, Gregoire called the race a virtual tie. At 42 votes back after the first recount, she said it was, in fact, a tie. Now, she said, “It’s time for this race and this election to be over.”

As they paid for the hand recount and filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court, Democrats have been highly critical of the counting process, saying local officials chose “expediency over accuracy and equality” and calling Rossi the “accidental governor-elect” and a “thief” trying to steal the election.

Finishing on top in a vote count had Gregoire putting a much rosier tint on things.

She said the state’s election system has proven itself a “model to the rest of the nation and to the world at large.”

“This is the biggest display of democracy I have ever seen,” she said.

Rossi saw nothing official, final or worth bragging about in yesterday’s count.

“I know many Washingtonians are hoping this will end soon, but I’m also sure that people across this state want a clean election and a legitimate governor-elect. At this point, we have neither,” Rossi said in a statement.

Republicans say Gregoire’s victory margin was artificially inflated by King County’s count of disputed ballots.

Those ballots included 566 absentee ballots that weren’t tallied earlier because of mistakes by election workers. The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that the votes could be counted. After the court’s ruling, King County reviewed 735 ballots that county officials said had been improperly rejected, and the county’s canvassing board ruled yesterday that 566 of them were valid.

“It’s a total sham,” Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane said. “If Chris Gregoire thinks democracy was well served by this, she’s out of her mind. It hasn’t been fair. It hasn’t been consistent. It hasn’t been democratic.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, said he considers the race over.

But he said Republicans have the right to go to a judge to contest the election.

“If they have seen something that is just wrong that would change the outcome of the race, I would in no way begrudge their right to file a contest,” Reed said.

Reed is scheduled to certify the results Thursday.

The new governor is to be sworn in Jan. 12.

King County also counted two provisional ballots yesterday that had been left in locked compartments of voting equipment after the election, and a third provisional ballot that had been rejected in a case of mistaken identity.

But the three-member canvassing board rejected 20 absentee ballots found in voting equipment weeks after the election because there was no proof the votes were placed there before polls closed.

If King County could count so many of the disputed votes that favored Gregoire, Republicans argued yesterday, it should also count absentee ballots that were rejected because signatures on ballot envelopes didn’t match voters’ signatures in county files.

Republican attorney Diane Tebelius, backed by a group of veterans, handed County Elections Director Dean Logan signed statements from 91 voters whose absentee ballots were rejected because of signature mismatches. More were delivered later in the day.

The canvassing board rejected those votes, though.

Dan Satterberg, who represents Republican King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng on the canvassing board, said the ballots counted yesterday are a different type than those the Republican Party wants to count.

The first group was counted because, he said, “The King County Elections Division made the mistake and so it’s our duty to correct that mistake as a canvassing board.”

The group of ballots brought by Tebelius wasn’t counted because it was the voters’ responsibility to resolve signature mismatches before results were certified, Satterberg said. “There has to be a deadline to make an election final. Otherwise it can go on for months and months.”

State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance said Republican lawyers yesterday went to county election offices across the state to deliver affidavits from Rossi voters who claim their ballots were wrongly rejected. The party also sent letters to county auditors, requesting they reconvene canvass boards to take up those ballots.

Though every county has certified its results, Republicans argue that this week’s Supreme Court ruling allows counties to “recanvass” up until the time that the state certifies the recount. That is scheduled for Thursday.

But Reed said he told auditors yesterday “they legally cannot reopen their canvassing boards.”

“I don’t want to do anything here that is on the surface illegal and will give basis for a contested election,” said Reed. “I don’t think we need that kind of instability here in the state of Washington.”

Yakima County Auditor Corky Mattingly, a Democrat who also serves as president of the Washington State Association of County Auditors, said a “vast majority” of the state’s 39 auditors agree that state law bars them from reopening the recount.

But at least one county has agreed to consider the Republican Party’s request.

Kittitas County’s canvassing board has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday to review affidavits from nine voters whose ballots were rejected because they were not signed.

David Bowen, Kittitas auditor, said the canvassing board has not agreed to reopen its recount.

“We’re just going to, out of fairness in a tight race like this, take a look at what they presented to us and see if it pertains to this recount,” said Bowen, a Democrat.

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or dpostman@seattletimes.com