Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Republicans in Washington state suspect Democrats, with 500 patronage jobs at risk, are cheating in what is now the unprecedented third counting of the 2,883,341 ballots cast in the Nov. 2 election for governor.

In the current hand recount, Democrats keep discovering untabulated ballots. The state’s Republicans, who thought they had elected Dino Rossi as the first Republican governor in 20 years, are furious.

State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance says he can’t decide whether Democrat officials in heavily Democratic King County — where uncounted or improperly discarded ballots keep popping up — are “colossally incompetent or completely corrupt.”

“This is the third time King County has added numbers to the pool,” says Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane. She said that two days before officials were to certify the election, King County announced it had 10,000 more ballots than it had originally thought.

During a machine recount, King County announced it had found more than 1,000 additional ballots. Then, on the morning that the state Supreme Court was due to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit over the disputed election, King County said it discovered 561 ballots that had been improperly thrown out. Officials in the Democrat-dominated county later turned up two more batches of ballots in the bottom of boxes.

“It’s a troubling pattern,” Miss Lane says.

The King County Canvassing Board yesterday voted 2-1 to begin the process of verifying the ballots.

Republicans in the state say they see a parallel to the 2000 Florida presidential election recount, when most of the disputed ballots were in heavily Democratic counties overseen by Democratic election officials.

Washington state Democrats accuse Republicans of whining.

“They’re hysterical because they’re wrong,” says Kirstin Brost, state Democratic spokeswoman. “They know these votes should be counted — they’re legal and valid and were accidentally thrown out.”

Mr. Rossi, a former state senator known as a pro-life and anti-tax conservative, had a winning margin of 261 votes on election night.

Then, in an automatic recount required by Washington election law, Mr. Rossi’s margin fell to 42 votes, making it the closest finish in state history for any statewide office. As of yesterday, with all but the four most-populous counties reporting results of their hand recounts, Mr. Rossi had gained 81 votes for a margin of 123.

If Mr. Rossi, 45, prevails, Republicans nationally will control 29 state governorships to the Democrats’ 21.

Republicans say they were confident that the third count would increase Mr. Rossi’s winning margin — until King County Council Chairman Larry Phillips, a Democrat, discovered his ballot had been discarded because of clerical error.

Officials then discovered another 560 improperly disqualified ballots — and then another batch a day later, and yet another batch that simply had not been looked at before, all in heavily Democratic King County.

The continued discoveries of extra ballots in King County has been too much for Mr. Vance, who suggested the partisan struggle had devolved into an all-out political war.

“This is no ordinary election — there are 500 patronage jobs at stake and Democrats have made clear they will do everything to stop a Republican from becoming governor — and we will do everything to make it happen,” said Mr. Vance said.

Republicans say the newly discovered ballots should not be counted unless election officials can show that those ballots were fully secured and could not have been tampered with after Election Day.

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