The state Republican Party's request to keep more than 700 disputed King County election ballots from being counted in the governor's race was granted by a Superior Court judge this afternoon.

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The state Republican Party’s request to keep more than 700 disputed King County election ballots from being counted in the governor’s race was granted by a Superior Court judge this afternoon.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend ruled that since the ballots had not been made a part of the first vote count, they shouldn’t be included in the recount now underway.

“It’s clear to me it is not appropriate to revisit the decision whether the ballots should or should not be considered,” she said.

Democrats say they will appeal immediately to the State Supreme Court.

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“We believe that the Supreme Court made it clear. . . that local canvassing boards have the ability to make sure every legitimate vote is counted,” said Paul Berendt, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Pary, said after the ruling.

Republican Party spokeswoman Mary Lane said the judge was right to bar counting the 723 ballots, which King County officials announced had not been counted only because of mistakes by election workers.

“A recount is just that, a recount of ballots already counted,” Lane said. “You don’t change the rules midway through.”

After the Nov. 2 election, Republican Dino Rossi came out 261 votes ahead of Democrat Christine Gregoire out of nearly 3 million votes cast. A first machine recount reduced his margin to 42 votes.

The hand recount may leave the margin even closer. Friday afternoon, with all but two of Washington’s counties reporting results of the hand recount, Rossi had picked up just one net vote over Gregoire.

The ballot of Metropolitan King County Council Chairman Larry Phillips is among those ballots barred from being counted.

“Through no fault of my own, we have just been disenfranchised,” said Phillips of the court ruling. “It’s a travesty.”

Phillips prompted King County officials to discover the uncounted ballots after he found his name on a list of voters whose votes had not been counted because the county had no signature on file. As it turns out, County officials said, the county did have signatures for those voters but they had not been scanned into its computer system.

King County election officials found 150 more absentee ballots today that were mistakenly not counted in two previous vote counts but which are now expected to be included in the ongoing manual recount in the governor’s race.

Added to 573 other ballots that were improperly rejected, up to 723 additional ballots may be counted in a county that has heavily favored Democrat Christine Gregoire over Republican Dino Rossi in this closest of close races.

Officials said they will attempt to learn the fate of 12 other ballots that weren’t found this morning.

While observers from three political parties and a phalanx of television camera crews watched, election workers opened a locked cage in a warehouse and pulled out a cart containing trays of rejected absentee ballots.

Within minutes they found 150 of the ballots they were looking for in sealed envelopes in a tray with other rejected ballots. They were placed in a box, sealed, and taken to the King County Administration Building.

Elections Director Dean Logan said the ballots, like the other 573, were set aside because workers initially couldn’t find voter signatures that corresponded to them.

But unlike the other ballots, these apparently were left behind and forgotten. The original 573 votes were mistakenly identified as having mismatched signatures and then disqualified.

Logan called an emergency meeting with his staff last night after The Seattle Times asked election workers to check computer files on five absentee voters who were not on the original list of 573 rejected ballots.

Records indicated there was no signature on file for those voters and their votes had not been counted.

Logan said at the time that he thought the computer records were in error and that a search for the ballot envelopes would show the votes had been counted. But when election officials looked for the envelopes last night, Logan said, “They were not where they were expected to be.”