The three-member canvassing board decided today to allow signature verification on newly discovered absentee ballots.

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SEATTLE — The three-member King County Canvassing Board decided today to allow signature verification on 573 newly discovered absentee ballots and then consider whether they should be counted in Washington’s extremely close governor’s race.

The board postponed a decision on what to do with 22 other newly discovered ballots.

Democrats applauded the board’s decision to move forward with assessing how many of the 573 previously rejected ballots are valid, since King County is a stronghold of Democratic candidate Christine Gregoire.

The canvassing board voted 2-1 to move forward with recanvassing the 573 ballots.

The canvassing board

The three-member canvassing board is comprised of the county prosecuting attorney or his designee, the county auditor, and the chairman of, in this case, the King County Council.

In King County, the members are Dean Logan, head of King County Elections; Dan Satterberg, who represents prosecutor Norm Maleng; and King County Councilman Dwight Pelz, who represents county chairman Larry Phillips, whose own ballot is among those the board will consider.

By law, the board has three tasks: certifying elections, deciding on challenged ballots and considering ballots referred to them by county elections officials. Two of the three members must agree before a vote will count.

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It’s a two-step process. First, election workers will verify if the ballot signatures are those of registered voters. If so, workers will take the ballots out of their security envelopes and bring them back to the board for a final decision on whether they should be counted. The process will take several days.

Republican Dino Rossi won the Nov. 2 election over Gregoire by 261 votes in the first count and by 42 after a machine recount. As of today he had gained 81 votes in the hand recount for a margin of 123.

Uncounted ballots in King County could reverse the outcome.

King County election officials said they discovered Sunday that 573 absentee ballots had not been counted because the voters’ signatures had not been scanned into in the county’s computer system. Election workers should have checked the paper files, but instead the ballots were mistakenly rejected.

County Elections Director Dean Logan said he believes most of the 573 ballots belong to valid, registered voters.

Then there’s another 22 ballots — 20 absentee and two provisional — found in several polling places in the side bins of plastic base units in which polling machines sit, said Bill Huennekens, county election superintendent. All ballots should have been logged on Election Night and returned in a sealed bag to election headquarters, but it didn’t happen with these, he said.

State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance urged the canvassing board not to count the newly discovered ballots.

“None of these ballots should be counted,” Vance said. “At the very least, the King County canvassing board needs to slow down and figure out what’s going on with these ballots.”

King County expects to finish its hand recount on Dec. 22, barring any more surprises, and because it’s the county with the most votes, it will be the last to finish. The governor’s inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 12.

Meanwhile, two members of the federal Election Assistance Commission arrived in Washington today to observe the recount. Kay Stimson, spokeswoman for the commission, said the two members came here to observe the historically close recount for a report on “best practices” by the states.