Judge John Bridges today upheld the election of Gov. Christine Gregoire, dismissing a Republican lawsuit and so soundly rejecting the party's claims that Dino Rossi said he would not go forward with what had been seen as an inevitable appeal.
WENATCHEE — Judge John Bridges today upheld the election of Gov. Christine Gregoire, dismissing a Republican lawsuit and so soundly rejecting the party’s claims that Dino Rossi said he would not go forward with what had been seen as an inevitable appeal.
Rossi said because the “political makeup of the Washington Supreme Court” makes it “almost impossible to overturn this ruling, I am ending this election contest.”
“I don’t make this decision lightly, but I don’t make it … with bitterness or hard feelings. I continue to believe, as most Washingtonians believe, that mounting this election challenge and shining the light on the various problems in our election system was the right thing to do,” Rossi said.
He wished Gregoire good luck.
“It’s important to the state of Washington that she is successful in implementing her campaign promises,” he said in a brief appearance at his Bellevue campaign headquarters. He took no questions.
Bridges said Republicans did not meet the burden of proof for nullifying an election.
He said there was evidence of irregularities, “as there appears to be in every election,” but “not clear and convincing evidence that improper conduct or irregularities procured Ms. Gregoire’s election to the office of governor.”
“There is no evidence that ballots were changed, the ballot box stuffed or that lawful votes were removed from either candidate’s ballot box,” Bridges said.
The decision in the historic election challenge came after six months of legal work and two weeks of trial. It let stand, at least until a possible appeal to the state Supreme Court, Democrat Gregoire’s record-tight 129-vote victory over Republican Rossi, a real estate agent and former state senator.
“I’m personally relieved. God bless my family,” Gregoire said.”God bless those who in the days leading up to this sent me their prayers and wishes. I am happy for myself. I’m happy for the state of Washington that we can finally move on here.”
In a ruling that took nearly one hour to read, Bridges said he saw no evidence of fraud and rejected Republicans’ proposed method for apportioning illegal votes. And he went further, saying Gregoire would have won even if he had applied the Republican theory of subtracting illegal votes from each candidate.
He said the Republicans’ proposed method of proportional deduction was not based on sound science. The method would have subtracted illegal felon votes from both candidates’ vote totals, dividing them in any given precinct by the same percentage as the overall vote in that precinct.
“An election such as this should not be overturned because one judge picks a number and applies a proportional deduction analysis,” Bridges said. “To do so within the context of the facts of this case would constitute the ultimate act of judicial egotism and judicial activism.”
After the verdict, Republicans said they have not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling, even though they had said before that an appeal was certain.
They have 10 days under the law to appeal.
“We disagree with the judge both in terms of the facts and the law,” said state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance.”We believe he has established a bar so high, it’s virtually impossible to contest an election in this state.”
Republican attorney Harry Korrell said he was surprised by how thoroughly Bridges dismissed the proposed method for deducting illegal votes.
The Democratic legal team and party officials posed for photos in front of Bridges’ bench, holding the giant blowup of the election certification that’s been in the court for two weeks.
Democrats said they didn’t think they lost a single argument.
“I think it was a resounding rejection of every one of the Republican claims,” said Democratic attorney Jenny Durkan.
“They chose the county, they chose the court, they chose the method of proof,” meaning the proportional deduction analysis.
“There is no corner for them to run to in that decision.”
On the Republicans’ fraud charge, the judge repeated the fact that there was no official fraud claim in the case, but then said that in any case, he saw no evidence of fraud.
Bridges did accept the claim that some people voted illegally in the election, but said there was little proof of which candidate benefited from those votes.
He ruled that 1,678 illegal votes should be subtracted from the total number of votes cast. That was important to the Secretary of State’s office, which uses the total from the general election to determine how many signatures are required for citizen initiatives.
Still, Bridges did not apportion the vast majority of illegal votes to any candidate. The only votes he did subtract from any candidate were five that had been proven by Democrats, through depositions taken from the voters themselves. Of those five, four had voted for Rossi and one for Libertarian Ruth Bennett.
Before issuing his decision, Bridges gave King County election officials a strong reprimand for errors and mismanagement by election workers and their supervisors. But he said that was a matter for voters and not for a judge.
He mentioned testimony about the culture of the King County bureaucracy:
“It’s inertia, it’s selfishness, it’s taking our paycheck but not doing the work.”
But in the actual decision Bridges cleared King County of any charge of fraud, corruption or bias in favor of Gregoire.
“The problems in King County are associated with and result from a lack of communication, lack of taking responsibility for action, a lower level of accountability and a difficulty documenting procedures,” Bridges said of the county’s well-publicized problems.
There is no evidence that the problems in King County had anything to do with “intentional misconduct or someone’s desire to manipulate the election” or “partisan bias,” the phrase Republicans used to allege wrongdoing.
“There is no evidence before the court to question ballot security as to those ballots actually counted,” Bridges said, knocking down another Republican claim about King County.
King County elections director Dean Logan,who testified before Bridges last week, issued a statement this morning responding to the judge’s comments:
“I am cognizant of Judge Bridges’ comments with regard to King County Elections and assure both him and the public we can and will do better,” Logan said. “Efforts are well underway to address the human errors and administrative deficiencies that occurred in November.”
Gregoire was obviously relieved when she walked out of her office this morning to talk to reporters. She watched the ruling on television in her office with staff and said she “burst a little bit into tears” when the judge ruled in her favor.
The governor treated the court ruling almost like an election night victory, beaming and hugging her husband and two daughters before a crowd of staff and onlookers. She patted her dog on the head in the lobby of her office and pronounced “you’re still the first dog.”
Secretary of State Sam Reed, who had been critical of some of the claims of vote fraud made by his fellow Republicans, said he hopes Bridge’s ruling, which he called “forthright, practical and clear,” will help rebuild voter confidence.
“I think it sets the basis for restoring that trust, I would expect in the short run there will be maybe less trust because it exposed problems, illegal votes and mistakes.
“I think by doing that, it has set up the basis for addressing these problems and conveying to voters that we are going to correct them.”
Reed criticized the Republican efforts to claim vote fraud without producing convincing evidence.
“I think if they were going to allege fraud, they should have done it in the initial filings of the case and I think they should have had proof of fraud, and obviously they didn’t do that.”
But Reed added: “I thought overall they had a good case, and a right to make it.”
Seattle Times staff reporters Jim Brunner, Ralph Thomas and Andrew Garber contributed to this report.