- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Two weeks after the election, Washington still doesn’t have a new governor. But voters are weathering the suspense the way Seattle residents shrug off the rain.

“People in this part of the world tend to be rather pleasant. They expect people to be civil in the way they behave,” said Ken Hoover, a political scientist at Western Washington University.

As of Monday night, state Attorney General Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, led by 158 votes out of 2.8 million cast, after a week of trailing real estate agent Dino Rossi, a Republican.

Across the state, about 22,000 votes remained to be counted. Of the six counties with the most votes outstanding, three favor Mr. Rossi and three lean toward Mrs. Gregoire.

“Washington voters have come to expect to wait for returns,” said Bobbie Egan, King County elections spokeswoman. “Counting absentee ballots just takes a long time.”

Glacially slow vote-counting goes with the territory in Washington politics.

In most states, mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day. Washington and Alaska, however, require only that ballots be postmarked by Election Day. With an estimated 60 percent of Washingtonians voting by mail, close races can drag on for weeks as absentee ballots trickle into county offices.

The 2000 U.S. Senate race took several weeks of counting and recounting before Democrat Maria Cantwell was declared the winner over Republican incumbent Slade Gorton.

Washington residents should soon know who the next governor is, as today is the deadline to finish counting. Unless, of course, there are recounts.

Under state law, a recount must be held if the final margin of victory is fewer than 2,000 votes and one-half of 1 percent. Six statewide vote recounts have been held since 1968, though none of them changed the outcome.

Mrs. Gregoire was heavily favored going into the race. Yet for a while during the vote counting, it looked as though Mr. Rossi would pull off a huge political upset and become Washington’s first Republican governor in 20 years.

Some glitches have surfaced. Election officials in Grays Harbor County started recounting all 30,000 ballots yesterday after discovering a problem in the computer reporting system. Officials in King County, the state’s largest, announced at the last minute that there were 10,000 more uncounted ballots than previously estimated.

The pressure may be getting to some. Democratic State Party Chairman Paul Berendt wept Friday after a judge ruled in favor of the party’s effort to track down 929 voters whose provisional ballots were in danger of being invalidated.

“We were just trying to get people their right to vote,” he said. “It meant a lot to me.”

Outside the campaign headquarters, though, people are taking the drawn-out election in stride.

“We’re civilized enough out here. We have faith in our democracy,” said Jean Wright, 44, a construction inspector in Olympia, Washington’s capital. “To have every vote counted, that’s most important to me.” Still, she said, “I am dying to find out.”

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