- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) — A trial to determine whether Washington state’s gubernatorial election last fall should be tossed out opened yesterday with the Republicans charging that the Democrats “stole” the contest for Christine Gregoire.

The GOP wants Dino Rossi — who won the election-night count and a machine recount before hand recounts gave Mrs. Gregoire a 129-vote lead among the 2.9 million cast — declared the winner or another election held.

“This is a case of election fraud,” Republican lawyer Dale Foreman said in his opening statement in the trial, which is being heard by a Superior Court judge without a jury. “This election was stolen from the legal voters of this state by a bizarre combination of illegal voters and bungling bureaucrats.”

Mr. Foreman surprised the court with a new claim: that the Democrats rigged the election by stuffing ballot boxes in Mrs. Gregoire’s two strongest precincts and by “losing” votes in two of Mr. Rossi’s strongest precincts.

The findings in Seattle’s heavily Democratic King County show “partisan bias and not random error,” Mr. Foreman said. “If it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”

Up to now, the Republicans have largely complained of bungling rather than outright fraud on the part of election officials.

Mr. Foreman also said the Republicans will prove that when all illegal votes are subtracted from both candidates, Mr. Rossi won the election.

Democratic lawyer Kevin Hamilton countered by arguing that the Republicans lack the “serious proof” they need to make their case and justify the removal of the governor. He showed the judge a Power Point slide titled “Evidence we won’t see.”

Every election has mistakes, Mr. Hamilton said, and the 2004 Washington governor’s contest was no exception, but “imperfection is not enough to overturn an election.”

He also said the Republicans’ belated claim of fraud demonstrates “desperation” on their part.

Chelan County Superior Court Judge John E. Bridges said that later in the day he would consider a request from the Democrats to exclude evidence relating to claims not previously raised — such as fraud.

“This case is going to set the rules for all future election contests in Washington state, large and small,” said state Elections Director Nick Handy as he waited for the courtroom to open. “It’s going to be closure, at last, to this long and difficult election.”

Nevertheless, Judge Bridges’ verdict will almost certainly be appealed to the Washington Supreme Court.

Mr. Rossi, a former state senator and commercial real estate agent, won the first count by 261 votes and a machine recount by 42 votes — seemingly a stunning upset over Mrs. Gregoire, a three-term attorney general in a Democratic-leaning state.

But during a hand recount of 2.9 million ballots, the Democratic stronghold of Seattle, the last county to announce its recounted figures, made Mrs. Gregoire the winner by 129 votes. Mrs. Gregoire was inaugurated in January, amid protests from Rossi supporters.

Neither candidate planned to attend the trial.

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