Republican Dino Rossi gained a few more precious votes yesterday after eight more counties completed their manual recounts in Washington's closest-ever race for governor. But with the recount...
Republican Dino Rossi gained a few more precious votes yesterday after eight more counties completed their manual recounts in Washington’s closest-ever race for governor.
But with the recount still continuing in the state’s largest counties, two-thirds of the more than 2.8 million ballots cast statewide still have to be tallied.
Democrat Christine Gregoire is hoping to get a big boost today when King County’s canvassing board meets to decide whether to count hundreds of additional ballots, mostly ones that county elections officials this week discovered had been mistakenly rejected during the initial count.
Rossi led by 261 votes after the initial count last month, triggering an automatic statewide machine recount. When Rossi’s lead dwindled to just 42 votes after the first recount, Democrats requested a second recount this time by hand.
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So far, the hand recount seems to be going Rossi’s way.
As of last night, Rossi had gained a net 64 votes over Gregoire. Of the 32 counties that have completed their latest tally, Rossi has gained ground in 17, compared with six counties where Gregoire has gained. In the remaining nine counties, the recount has been a wash.
But King County remains a big worry for Rossi and the Republicans. For the second straight day, the party learned yesterday that more ballots had turned up there.
Bill Huennekens, King County’s superintendent of elections, said last night that election workers had recently found 22 ballots in the pockets of voting machines already put in storage. The county’s voting machines have pockets on the side where voters can place absentee or provisional ballots.
Huennekens said workers missed the 22 ballots when they initially emptied the pockets.
News of the ballots came a day after the county announced it had discovered 561 ballots had been wrongly rejected during the initial vote count. The county increased that figure to 573 yesterday.
The canvassing board is going to look at all 595 new ballots this afternoon.
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance called the discovery of the 22 ballots “outrageous” and said they should not be counted because they were not secured after the election and there is no way to prove they are valid.
He also said he has asked his lawyers to study whether the party should take legal action to block the county from tallying the 573 previously disqualified ballots. Gregoire has been getting nearly 60 percent of the votes in King County, so the new ballots could be enough to push her ahead of Rossi.
County Elections Director Dean Logan, chairman of the canvassing board, wants the ballots counted because election workers erroneously rejected them.
He said the ballots, from absentee voters, were disqualified only because the county failed to enter voters’ signatures into the election computer system for comparison with signatures on ballot envelopes.
“There is no excuse for something like this. That is not acceptable by any standard,” said Secretary of State Sam Reed.
Logan used to be Reed’s election director, and he was hired last year to lead the problem-plagued King County elections department. Reed said he thinks Logan is “trying mightily to turn things around [in the department], but this just shows how deep some of those problems are.”
Meanwhile, Logan yesterday found himself caught in another skirmish between Democrats and Republican over what constitutes an “overvote” when a voter chooses more than one candidate. Such ballots are disqualified.
The Democrats’ recount director, David McDonald, said the number of overvotes in the manual recount of poll voters had nearly tripled, from 18 to 51, from an earlier machine count. But McDonald said in a letter to Logan that the rate of overvote designation dropped dramatically after Logan clarified instructions to counting teams Friday.
The Democratic Party has asked that all potential overvotes be passed on to the canvassing board.
But Vance said any change in the way overvotes are handled could unfairly boost Gregoire’s prospects in the state’s largest county.
“If they change the standard on what is an overvote in the middle of the game, that would be outrageous,” Vance said yesterday. “The public has, I think, lost all confidence in King County Elections already.”
Logan said election officials did not change the definition of an overvote in any way. But he said they did clarify that a ballot should go to the canvassing board if the three members of a counting team can’t agree on how to count the vote.
“If you’re not in agreement about what constitutes the vote in this race, you should feel no shame in saying ‘I want this sent to the canvassing board,’ ” Logan said.
The hand recount is expected to be completed this week everywhere except King County. Thurston and Skagit counties are scheduled to certify their recount results today, followed by Snohomish County tomorrow, then Pierce and Spokane counties Friday.
King County, where about a third of the state’s voters reside, is not expected to complete its recount until next Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org