Republicans say Jay Inslee, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and former congressman, should pick up the tab for the special election to pick his temporary replacement in Congress. But the $1 million cost estimate cited by the GOP is misleading at least in one sense.

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Republicans sought to inflict more political damage Monday on Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Jay Inslee over his resignation from Congress last month, demanding his campaign cover the costs of a special election to pick a temporary replacement for the 1st Congressional District.

State GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur pointed to estimates the election will cost close to $1 million. “He could pay this bill, rather than stick it on taxpayers,” Wilbur said at a news conference near Inslee’s campaign office in downtown Seattle.

Democrats hit back by accusing Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office of playing partisan politics with the cost figures.

The $1 million figure is misleading in one sense. Because the special election will be held concurrently with the normal primary and general election — essentially just adding one more race to the ballot — it won’t by itself raise the cost of holding the election substantially, according to Reed’s office and county elections officials.

But because of a quirk in state law, the special election will enable the three counties involved — King, Kitsap and Snohomish — to shift part of their election expenses to the state.

“The cost to the taxpayer is essentially the same — it’s just which taxpayers will be paying for it,” said Garth Fell, elections and recording manager for Snohomish County.

So the state budget will take a hit, while the counties will get a boost.

In all, the counties could bill the state $770,000, according to Reed’s office. Reed wants an additional $225,000 to send postcards and develop other materials explaining the confusing election to affected voters, bringing the total potential cost to the state to nearly $1 million.

Gov. Chris Gregoire called the special election last week, noting she was required to under the state constitution. A temporary replacement for Inslee will be picked by voters in the current 1st Congressional District when the top-two primary in August is followed by the November general election. The winner will serve only about a month, until the new Congress is seated in January.

Inslee’s longer-term successor will be chosen by voters in the new 1st District, which was substantially reshaped by redistricting this year. The swing district now runs from Redmond to the Canadian border. That contest will be held at the same time as the special election, and the 40 percent of voters who are in the overlapping parts of the current and the new 1st District can vote in both races.

The electoral tangle was triggered when Inslee quit Congress last month to campaign full-time for governor after earlier denying he had plans to do so.

Had Inslee quit before March 6, the cost could have been substantially higher, as the state would have been required to hold a separate special election earlier, perhaps this summer.

“We just think it’s fair that Jay help pay for this because he caused the issue to begin with,” said Wilbur, arguing the state could have spent the money on teachers or other worthy causes.

Eight supporters gathered behind Wilbur to pose for cameras at the news conference, holding signs and “invoices” demanding Inslee’s campaign pay for the special election. Afterward, the invoices were delivered to Inslee’s office, where the Republicans were greeted with a sign reading “GOP Stunt Welcome.”

State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz rejected the GOP demands and disputed the election cost. Noting Reed is McKenna’s campaign co-chairman in Thurston County, Pelz said it showed “poor judgment” for him “to be so visibly connected … especially when his numbers appear to be faulty.”

But Dave Ammons, a spokesman for Reed, said the cost figures came from the counties involved and pointed out that the state will have to pay the money.

“The numbers were not ginned up by this office,” he said.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner.