SEATTLE – At least five Washington counties found ballots that weren’t included in the original tally for governor and added them to the recount, according to an affidavit by state Elections Director Nick Handy.
The state Republican Party’s lawsuit seeks to stop King County from including 723 newly discovered ballots in the hand recount of the excruciatingly close race for governor.
But five other counties have already done what King County wants to do, and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the case could affect voters all over the state.
“In similar situations, ballots like these were counted,” Handy said.
The Supreme Court will hear the case Wednesday. Democrats say state law allows canvassing boards to correct mistakes, such as King County workers’ errors that mistakenly excluded 723 ballots from the original count and the first recount by machine.
Republicans say a previous Supreme Court ruling defines a recount as a retabulation of ballots that have already been counted – not an opportunity to reconsider ballots that have already been rejected.
Both sides are fighting fiercely because every vote counts. Republican Dino Rossi now holds a 49-vote advantage over Democrat Christine Gregoire.
A Pierce County Superior Court judge agreed with Republicans, and granted a temporary restraining order Friday blocking King County from counting those newly discovered ballots.
“If they uphold the Pierce County Superior Court decision, it raises questions not just about what we’ve done, but about what historically all counties have done for as long as I’ve been in the business, which is 25 years,” said Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger.
Snohomish County found 224 valid ballots buried under empty mail trays. They weren’t included in the original count, but the county canvassing board added them to the machine recount.
The secretary of state’s office said Monday in briefs filed with the Supreme Court that if the Pierce County judge’s order stands, counties may have to recount – again – to exclude the ballots that were added after the original tally.
Republican State Party Chairman Chris Vance says Snohomish County is different because those ballots were never formally rejected by the county canvassing board.
“The King County ballots are totally different and they should not be brought back into the process,” Vance said.
But attorneys for the state Democratic party and for Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed argue that all the counties rely on the same legal basis for including newfound ballots in the recount.
Whatcom, Kittitas, Chelan and Pierce counties all added at least one previously uncounted ballot during the first or second recount for governor.
“If they’re going to ban King County from counting theirs, does that mean we’d have to revisit ours?” asked Debbie Adelstein, chief deputy auditor in Whatcom County.
Until the Supreme Court rules, these auditors will likely continue to have more questions than answers.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric heated up Monday as Republicans and Democrats prepared for their Supreme Court showdown.
Dueling Web sites have sprung up to mock both would-be governors. A site created by the state Democratic Party seeks to undermine Rossi’s legitimacy at www.accidentalgovernor.com, while an enterprising Rossi supporter created www.gregoirethegrinch.com. (Sample couplet: “The chads were hung on the ballots with care/ In hopes that a Gregoire vote would somehow be there.”)
Democratic State Party Chairman Paul Berendt slammed Rossi in an e-mail titled “Rossi the Thief.”
“Rossi knows that he is nothing more than the accidental governor-elect. His earlier lead was an error,” Berendt said. “And now he wants a court to make him Governor-by-mistake.”
Berendt should apologize, said Republican State Party Chairman Chris Vance. Normally an eager attack dog, Vance said the seven-week election process is starting to wear him down.
“We will fight like hell for Dino, but there is not anything ennobling or good about this,” Vance said. “This is horrible. It’s a political street brawl.”
Rossi, 45, a real estate agent and former state senator, won the first count by 261 votes over Gregoire, a three-term state attorney general. Rossi won a machine recount by 42 votes. The Democratic Party then requested a hand recount of all 2.9 million ballots.
The hand recount should finish on Wednesday, when King County reports its results – but the final tally could change depending on the Supreme Court.
The three-member King County Canvassing Board met Monday and decided to wait for the court ruling before deciding whether to count 22 ballots that were found last week in the side bins of plastic containers in which the polling machines sit. The board began scrutinizing 1,627 unclearly marked ballots to determine voter intent – where circles had been messily scribbled on or partially erased, for example.
It was tedious work, with TV crews and party observers breathing down the canvassers’ necks.
Canvassing Board Member Dan Satterberg acknowledged that for the public and especially for the candidates, “This has been agonizing.”
Governor’s race heads to court
Monday: Democrats and Republicans will submit briefs to the state Supreme Court in a case that could determine the outcome of the prolonged governor’s election.
The issue: The court will decide whether King County should be allowed to include more than 700 newly discovered ballots in the hand recount for governor.
The details: An affidavit by state Elections Director Nick Handy described how five counties added previously uncounted ballots to their tallies during the first or second recount: 224 from Snohomish County, 34 from Kittitas County, nine from Whatcom County, and one each from Chelan and Pierce counties.
What’s ahead: The Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. King County plans to report recount results on Wednesday also.
Dan Satterberg tries to determine voter intent on a ballot while meeting with other members of the three-member King County Canvassing Board on Monday in Seattle.