The one bit of evidence that best sums up what went wrong in the 2004 election was never presented at trial. "WE DON'T HAVE A FREAKING COUNT...

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The one bit of evidence that best sums up what went wrong in the 2004 election was never presented at trial.

“WE DON’T HAVE A FREAKING COUNT!!!!!!!!!! OH MY GOD,” e-mailed a King County elections supervisor to her boss, after ballots began arriving by mail. That tells it all. The breakdown in tracking ballots. The panicked desire to count them properly. The admission — later covered up or buried in bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo — that a 100-percent-accurate count wasn’t likely to happen.

In bringing this up, I’m violating a personal pledge never to write another word about the 2004 election. But I’ve been mighty irked by the reactions to Judge John Bridges’ ruling in the election trial.

What have we all learned from this experience?

Republicans say they’ve learned that overturning an election ought to be easier. And that elections officials need to be harassed, else they’ll surely stuff ballot boxes or disenfranchise the military.

Democrats say they’ve learned only what they already knew — that Dino Rossi never deserved to be governor.

May I suggest there’s a larger issue here? Which is, to paraphrase Ms. Exclamation Point above: How do we freaking count the votes right the next time?

The judge said it himself.

“Extraordinary efforts are in place to make it easier to vote,” Bridges said. “Unfortunately, I fear it will be much more difficult to account for those votes in the future.”

This is now the challenge. It has nothing to do with who is governor or the latest conspiracy theory. It’s about figuring out how to count 3 million votes accurately, so everyone can trust the system again.

Here are some ideas to start:

• Make everyone vote the same way. Either we all use the same type of voting machine, or we all vote by mail. If every vote was cast the same way, with the same rules, it would be much easier to count them.

• Simplify the system. The state is spending untold sums on a database to try to stop ex-felons from voting. Why not let them vote? It’s free, and there’s no evidence any of the 1,401 ex-felons who voted did so to undermine democracy. They were just voting, like you or me. What’s the harm in that?

• Track every ballot. It’s all but certain ballots will be lost again, as some counties don’t try to track them individually.

Yet a Bellevue company, VoteHere, has software that traces each ballot from when it’s issued to when it’s counted. It’s like how FedEx tracks packages. You could electronically follow your own ballot, ensuring it gets counted.

• Give counties more time. Move the primary election earlier. Also add time after Election Day for verifying results.

Some of this is being tried in other states. But when the Legislature “reformed” our elections this spring, it didn’t do much of anything.

You have to focus on a problem to fix it. Right now our politicians seem content casting aspersions about fraud and whether Rossi should apologize and other stuff that’s freaking beside the point.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or