- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2008

OLYMPIA, Wash. | Washington state’s last governor’s race ended in controversy with three counts, a court challenge and an astonishingly close margin of victory for the current governor.

Four years later, after a detailed process of election reform, the secretary of state is assuring voters that “voter rolls are the cleanest they have ever been” for the long-anticipated rematch between Republican Dino Rossi and Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat.

“These measures are designed to make the system better, but they’re also designed to improve voter trust and confidence in the system,” said state elections director Nick Handy.

In the 2004 face-off between Mr. Rossi and Mrs. Gregoire, Mr. Rossi won the initial count by 261 votes, but then watched his lead shrink to 42 in a machine recount. After a hand recount, Mrs. Gregoire was pronounced the winner by 129 votes out of 2.9 million cast - the smallest margin of victory in percentage terms of any statewide election in the nation’s history.

Five days before Mrs. Gregoire’s inauguration, Mr. Rossi sued to contest the election.

But months later, Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges refused to nullify Mrs. Gregoire’s narrow victory, denying Republicans’ claims that election errors, illegal voters and fraud stole the election from Mr. Rossi. The judge even threw out four illegally cast votes for Mr. Rossi, which raised Mrs. Gregoire’s margin of victory to 133.

Before the judge’s decision was even handed down, the Legislature had quickly moved on election reform, seeking to erase any specter of doubt in the state’s election system. Nearly 70 percent of people questioned by independent pollster Stuart Elway said that their confidence in the process had decreased as a result of the 2004 election.

“The changes that have been made take us a long way for people to feel good and confident about it,” Mrs. Gregoire said.

In a general-election information pamphlet that will be sent to voters in October, a letter from Secretary of State Sam Reed notes there have been 180 changes to state election law and 1,100 administrative rule changes, “all designed to give you confidence in the accuracy and integrity of this process we all hold dear.”

Most of the changes involved small technical areas like rules on the recount process. Others are more significant, like the requirement that counties now make sure the number of votes they count is the same as those that were cast, and another law that requires the Secretary of State’s Office to review county election procedures every three years.

The biggest change is the implementation of the statewide voter database that consolidated all 39 separate county systems into one database in January 2006.

The database brought the state into compliance with the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which required better voting systems, improved voter access and statewide voter-registration lists by Jan. 1, 2006.

Since 2006, more than 450,000 voter registrations have been canceled. Of those, nearly 95,000 were ineligible felons or dead, and almost 55,000 were canceled because they duplicated existing registrations. The rest were people who had moved out of state, asked to be removed, or had not voted in the years covering two federal general elections.

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