Results do not include 700-plus recently discovered ballots from King County. The state Supreme Court ruled earlier today that those ballots should be counted.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — After losing the first two counts in the extraordinarily close Washington governor’s race, Democrat Christine Gregoire pulled ahead by 10 votes after King County reported its hand recount results today.
Gregoire’s slim margin could widen tomorrow, when Democrat-heavy King County officials plan to count 700-plus belatedly discovered ballots. Over Republicans’ objections, the state Supreme Court ruled today that those ballots should be counted.
The election results are not official. They will likely be challenged in court. Republicans vowed to keep fighting.
“When Christine Gregoire was 261 and then 42 votes behind, she referred to it as a ‘tie,”‘ Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane said, quoting Gregoire’s reaction to Rossi’s victories in the first two statewide vote counts.
“We’re not going to call this a tie but it is extremely close. It’s certainly too close to call and Dino is not conceding,” Lane said. “This election is not over.”
Gregoire, 57, a three-term attorney general, was the favorite going into the election against Rossi, 45, a real estate agent and former state senator.
But Rossi suprised political experts by squeaking out a 261-vote win over Gregoire. His lead was whittled to 42 votes in a subsequent machine recount.
Democrats paid $730,000 for the hand recount, though by law the state has to repay the party if the recount reverses the results.
“We asked for a hand count because we knew machines make mistakes,” said state Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirstin Brost. “We believe that the hand count is the most accurate count and we’re very excited by these results.”
Gregoire won another victory today when the state Supreme Court ruled that King County should include hundreds of recently discovered ballots in the hand recount of the still-undecided governor’s race.
“There is a sacred American right to have legitimate votes counted,” Gregoire said in a news release after the ruling. “The justices recognized that principle today.”
Republicans said they will now seek out Rossi voters whose ballots were disqualified because of election workers’ errors and fight to have those ballots counted as well.
“We’ll be taking them to canvassing boards in counties across the state and asking those canvassing boards to review their decisions and to consider these ballots,” Lane said.
King County officials discovered last week that up to 735 ballots had not been counted because of mistakes made by election workers.
At a hearing this morning before the high court, Republicans argued that a recount should be a mere retabulation, and that it was too late for counties to go back and correct errors.
Harry Korrell, a lawyer for the Republican Party, said counting those votes would cause irreparable harm, but justices questioned who would be hurt.
“You’re looking at it from the point of view of the winner or the loser — shouldn’t we be looking at it from the point of view of the voter?” asked Justice Susan Owens.
Ruling within a few hours of hearing the case, the court unanimously said state law and previous court rulings specifically allow county canvassing boards to correct mistakes during a recount.
The lawsuit was brought by King County, the state Democratic Party and the office of Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican.
After the Secretary of State certifies the election, which is expected tomorrow, any registered voter can sue to challenge the results. Republicans have already begun preparing for possible legal action, and Rossi has repeatedly said he’ll keep all his options open.
If the legal fighting does not produce a new governor by the scheduled Jan. 12 inauguration, lame-duck Gov. Gary Locke, a Democrat, may have to stick around. A provision of the state constitution says the governor’s term of office is four years “and until his successor is elected and qualified.”
Locke has made it clear he is not interested in hanging around.