Republican Party leaders yesterday laid the groundwork for a possible challenge of Democrat Christine Gregoire's victory over Dino Rossi in the hand recount for governor, claiming...

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Republican Party leaders yesterday laid the groundwork for a possible challenge of Democrat Christine Gregoire’s victory over Dino Rossi in the hand recount for governor, claiming a number of irregularities in the way King County handled ballots.

But state Republican Chairman Chris Vance said a decision hadn’t been made about whether to ask either a court or the Legislature to reject the results of the hand recount that wiped out Rossi’s win in two earlier counts.

That decision will be made by Rossi, Vance said.

“Before we get to that point, we want to be deliberative and careful,” Vance said.

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“It’s serious stuff. Today we’re asking for more information to help make that decision.”

The state Republican Party served King County elections director Dean Logan with a request for many documents, including lists of voters and e-mails sent or received by top elections officials.

And at an afternoon news conference, Vance described King County’s election process as “chaos.”

“These ballots are treated different ways at different times by different people,” he said.

Logan, taking a day off after seven weeks of counting votes, was not available for comment.

Gregoire beat Rossi in the hand recount by 130 votes last week, after the state Supreme Court allowed King County to count 566 ballots that had been mistakenly rejected in two previous counts. Before those ballots were added, Gregoire led in the hand count by 10 votes.

Rossi had won the initial election count by 261 votes and led after a machine recount by 42 votes.

While mulling their options, Republican lawyers have asked county auditors to reconvene their canvassing boards to reconsider hundreds of ballots the party says were wrongly rejected during the initial count. The party has delivered to the counties affidavits from many of those voters.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, has cautioned counties not to heed the party’s request. Reed insists it would be illegal for counties to change their totals now that all of them have certified the results.

So far no counties have agreed to reopen their recounts, but the canvassing boards in Kittitas and Lewis counties are scheduled to meet this morning to consider the Republican request. Clark County’s canvassing board also reportedly has agreed to look at the Republican Party’s voter affidavits.

Other counties, including King and Snohomish, have refused. Clallam County Auditor Cathleen McKeown said yesterday she had decided, based on legal advice, not to convene her county’s canvassing board.

Vance, Republican Party attorney Peter Schalestock and Dan Brady, the party’s lead recount observer for King County, made the following allegations about vote-counting in King County, which put Gregoire over the top:

• The county violated state election regulations by permanently obscuring voters’ original marks on ballots that were “enhanced” with white tape or dark ink.

• Election workers were inconsistent in deciding whether a vote should be disqualified as an “overvote,” that is, a vote for two competing candidates. The county issued guidelines several days into the machine recount, then told counting teams after the hand recount started to direct all potential overvotes to the canvassing board.

The alleged change made the counting of an individual vote “purely random,” Vance said.

• Party observers often couldn’t see much of what election workers were doing and weren’t told in advance that county elections superintendent Bill Huennekens was going to go through absentee ballots to look for wrongfully rejected ballots.

• Rejected absentee ballots — 566 of which were eventually reconsidered and boosted Gregoire’s margin in the manual recount from 10 votes to 130 — were stored in unsealed trays outside a locked cage in the county’s absentee-ballot warehouse.

“King County stands by its process as being open and fair and transparent,” said Carolyn Duncan, spokeswoman for County Executive Ron Sims. However, she said she did not have information to respond to the specific allegations.

“What I believe is that the air is going out of the Republicans very rapidly,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt. “I believe the reason they didn’t announce a lawsuit today is because they know they will have a very hard time before any court on any outstanding issues, and the courts want some finality to this election.”

If the Republican Party decides to formally challenge the election results, the deadline would be 10 days after the Legislature convenes and certifies the results on Jan. 10, said Trova Hutchins, spokeswoman for Reed, the secretary of state.

Staff reporter Ralph Thomas contributed to this report. Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com