King County election officials yesterday admitted a major error in tallying votes in the governor's race that could reverse the results and make Christine Gregoire the winner in...

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King County election officials yesterday admitted a major error in tallying votes in the governor’s race that could reverse the results and make Christine Gregoire the winner in the hand recount now under way.

The discovery that 573 (formerly 561) votes were improperly disqualified super-heated backers of Republican Dino Rossi, who for weeks have worried that King County, a Democratic stronghold, would find a way to give Gregoire the edge.

Republicans are now “absolutely convinced that King County is trying to steal this election,” said Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance.

“There are Republicans urging us to organize mass protests, to take to the streets,” Vance said. “At some point people’s patience just runs out.”

For Democrats, the discovery proved their argument that not all valid votes cast in the election have been counted.

For Republicans, it showed that counties can correct errors on their own.

The King County error came to light Sunday when Larry Phillips, chairman of the Metropolitan King County Council, was looking over a list of voters from his neighborhood whose ballots had been disqualified.

Phillips spotted his own name on the list, prompting an investigation by King County elections workers that turned up the improperly disqualified ballots.

King County Elections Director Dean Logan said that when workers were verifying signatures on absentee ballots, they erroneously disqualified voters whose signatures hadn’t been entered into a computer system.

Instead, Logan said, they should have double-checked with signatures on voters’ registration cards on file with the county.

“We take full responsibility,” Logan said. “An error has been made that has prevented valid ballots from being counted. We need to correct the error and count those votes.”

Logan said he will ask the three-member King County Canvassing Board tomorrow to approve the counting of all wrongly disqualified ballots that pass a signature comparison. If some signatures don’t match, those voters will be notified of the mismatch and given a chance to establish their identity.

Elsewhere in the state, Rossi got some good news yesterday when eight more counties reported results of the hand recount. As of last night, with the recount completed in 24 counties, Rossi had gained 46 votes — bringing his total lead to 88.

King County has already been a problem for Rossi, though.

The county is the state’s largest and one of the most Democratic. Gregoire holds a nearly 60-40 advantage over Rossi there.

Last month, in the final days of the initial vote tally, Republicans were shocked to learn that King County was going to count thousands more ballots than it had originally forecast.

Rossi led by 261 votes after the first count. Then, during the machine recount, Rossi’s lead withered to just 42 votes — largely because King County tallied nearly 1,000 ballots that weren’t included in the initial count.

“It’s either gross incompetence or vote fraud,” Vance said. “I guess we should just keep expecting King County to find votes until they find enough.”

Gregoire and the Democrats, meanwhile, welcomed the news that more votes would be counted in King County.

“We are hopeful, but we don’t know how these ballots are going to break down,” state Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirstin Brost said.

Election workers are investigating whether any other category of ballots was mishandled, but no problems have been found, Logan said.

Other people whose votes were disqualified because of signature problems during the initial vote count won’t be reconsidered following today’s ruling by the state Supreme Court rejecting a lawsuit by Democratic party that sought to order election officials to reconsider previously rejected ballots.

At the heart of the Democrats’ argument was that all counties need to treat the recount the same, and that the standard used should be to reconsider all previously rejected ballots.

Attorneys for county election officials, Secretary of State Sam Reed, the Republican Party and Rossi had argued that what Democrats want is a recanvass — going far beyond the scope of a recount.

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or

Staff writers Ralph Thomas and Keith Ervin contributed to this report.