New votes are turning up in the governor's race around the state as election workers find ballots that were never counted, punch cards with problem chads and optical scan ballots...

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OLYMPIA — New votes are turning up in the governor’s race around the state as election workers find ballots that were never counted, punch cards with problem chads and optical scan ballots that weren’t marked properly.

In Whatcom County, for example, election workers found seven unopened, uncounted ballots that had earlier been accidentally put in a wrong pile.

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The numbers are small, a few votes here and there, but with only 42 votes separating Republican Gov.-elect Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire, even small changes like the one in Whatcom could affect the outcome.

Rossi picked up more votes than Gregoire yesterday as counties rushed to meet the state deadline to start the recount process of almost 3 million ballots. It’s Washington’s first statewide hand recount.

The results have little meaning until the state’s larger counties begin reporting. King County, with almost 900,000 ballots, isn’t expected to finish counting until Dec. 22.

The state Democratic Party, which is paying for the effort, said the fact that new votes are turning up proves the need for a hand recount. After the first count, Rossi was ahead by 261 votes, a lead that shrank to 42 votes after a statewide machine recount.

Republican leaders have repeatedly urged Gregoire to concede, but she’s maintained the race is too close. Her campaign and the Democratic Party said a second recount, this one by hand, was needed to determine the winner.

“With the margin between the candidates as small as it is, each one of these [votes] is incredibly significant,” said Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for the party. “We want the public to know that this is worthwhile, and this is making a difference and is a valid effort.”

Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane said, “Dino doesn’t oppose a hand recount. It’s all water over the dam now. We’re in the middle of it. I don’t know why the Democrats keep harping on the issue.

“Our hope is just that the hand recount can go forward by the rules that have been set in the state for years. We just don’t want the rules to be changed midway through simply because Christine Gregoire didn’t like the results of the first two counts.”

In addition to getting a hand recount, Democrats filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court seeking to compel county canvassing boards to reconsider thousands of ballots rejected in the first two counts because of problems such as signatures that did not match.

The party contends there aren’t adequate statewide standards for ballot counting and that voters were disenfranchised because election officials chose “expediency over accuracy and equality.”

Republicans, in their own court filing, argue Democrats want to set a “dangerous precedent” by asking courts to “change the rules for an election after it has occurred.”

The Supreme Court has set a hearing on the Democrats’ lawsuit for Monday at 1:30 p.m.

In the meantime, the recount goes on.

King County finished sorting about 334,000 poll ballots by precinct yesterday in preparation for the start of hand counting this morning. Counting will be done in a Boeing Field office building by 80 teams of three workers: a Republican, a Democrat and someone from the county’s regular list of temporary election workers.

Workers at a separate Sodo location are continuing the laborious task of sorting 564,000 absentee ballots into 17 legislative districts and then into 2,616 precincts.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was in Whatcom County, where seven provisional ballots had accidentally been placed in a pile of empty envelopes. The ballots were found when workers were alphabetizing the envelopes, said Shirley Forslof, the county auditor.

The new ballots were counted: three for Rossi, two for Gregoire, one for Libertarian candidate Ruth Bennett and one nonvote, Forslof said. The count in Whatcom County should be completed around Dec. 22, she said.

Although no other uncounted votes were reported yesterday, several counties have added votes to their tallies in the past two days.

Skamania County added three votes for Rossi and one for Gregoire after workers discovered some voters had lightly colored in their votes with pencils instead of pens on the optical scan ballots. As a result, the votes were not recognized in previous machine counts.

In Mason County, which reported its results on Wednesday, several additional votes were picked up when workers looked at punch cards and either found chads that had been punched but not counted by the machine, or noticed a voter had otherwise marked their intent on the card.

And in Wahkiakum County, Rossi lost one vote, bringing his final tally there back to where it was before the first recount, 1,099 votes to Gregoire’s 993.

Why?

“I don’t know,” said Diane Tischer, the county auditor.

“We had two-person counting boards and they both agreed to all the ballots. So I couldn’t tell you why we’re back to the original [count].”

Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or agarber@seattletimes.com. Seattle Times reporters Keith Ervin and David Postman contributed to this report.

Governor recount
Before the hand recount, Republican Dino Rossi was leading Democrat Christine Gregoire by 42 votes. The hand recount started Wednesday. As of last night, 10 of the state’s 39 counties had so far reported results.
Gregoire Rossi
Latest total 50,735 51,418
Revisions in county totals
Ferry +0 +0
Grays Harbor +10 +8
Jefferson +8 +5
Lincoln +0 +0
Pacific +0 +0
Pend Oreille +0 +2
Skamania +1 +3
Wahkiakum +0 -1

Change yesterday

+19

+17

Total change so far

+28

+29
Source: Wa. Secretary of State’s office