The secretary of state says the dispute over the election of Gov. Christine Gregoire should be settled in the courts, not the Legislature.
OLYMPIA — Secretary of State Sam Reed filed court papers this week siding with Republicans on key legal issues in the lawsuit over the governor’s election, saying, for example, that the dispute should stay in the courts and not move to the Legislature as Democrats want.
Reed said that in court, the Republicans’ effort to have Gov. Christine Gregoire removed from office and to force a new election can be decided in “a prompt, orderly, and non-partisan manner.”
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Reed is a Republican and the state’s chief election official. In the nearly three months of legal wrangling over the Nov. 2 election, he has sided at various times with Democrats or Republicans. His apparent nonpartisan approach has angered some Republicans who thought he should aggressively fight for Dino Rossi.
The next hearing in the case will be in Wenatchee on Feb. 4. Republicans named Reed, all 39 counties and their auditors in the suit. Several of those counties have asked that the case be dismissed, saying Republicans have made no substantive allegations of wrongdoing.
In six filings made Wednesday in Chelan County Superior Court, Reed sided firmly with the Republicans.
“I’m sure there is a lot of scrutiny to the extent we are lining up with one party or the other party,” said state Election Director Nick Handy. “We are trying very hard to take positions that protect the integrity of this election.”
Attorney General Rob McKenna, a newly elected Republican, recently had his office take over the lead in representing Reed. The office now supervises the private Seattle law firm that had been hired to do the job.
Handy said the state’s legal positions now are decided by officials from the Secretary of State’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Seattle firm of Foster Pepper & Shefelman.
The latest round of legal arguments come in response to Democratic motions to have the case dismissed on various grounds.
Democrats said the state constitution gives the Legislature sole power to hear a legal contest to the election of a governor.
One of the briefs filed on Reed’s behalf by Assistant Attorney General Jeff Even says Democrats misread the constitution and case law, and that the Legislature has granted the courts authority to hear election contests. The state’s response quotes Democratic lawmakers who two weeks ago argued against any legislative involvement in the dispute.
Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp yesterday added his voice to those opposed to having the Legislature settle the disputed election.
Chopp said he hasn’t polled Democratic lawmakers but said, “quite a large number disagree with the state party on that.”
He said the Legislature’s only role was in certifying the election, and, “We already did our job.”
Reed also weighed in on the question of what constitutes an illegal vote.
The state law setting out a process to contest an election says illegal votes are one ground for overturning an election. While that law specifically mentions felons, Democrats have argued felon voters qualify as improperly registered voters and would have needed to be challenged before the election.
Reed disagreed. He said votes cast by felons, people declared mentally incompetent and those who vote more than once are clearly illegal votes under the law.
Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance held a news conference Wednesday to outline the hundreds of alleged illegal votes he says have been discovered, including those of felons and people who voted more than once.
The state did not respond to all of the Democratic arguments.
For example, Reed did not answer claims that evidence provided by Republicans is vague or exaggerated and would not be sufficient to overturn an election.
“Their silence is deafening,” said Democratic Party attorney Jenny Durkan. “Sam Reed at the end of the day, I think, will stand with the auditors and understands that everybody believes there should be a fair election, but like in any human endeavor there is never a perfect election.”
David Postman: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org