Election officials prepare for second recount
KING 5 Staff and Wire Reports
Secretary of State Sam Reed on Monday ordered an unprecedented statewide hand recount in the state's closest gubernatorial race on record between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire
The race ended in a virtual dead heat in the first two counts. After Rossi was certified the winner by just 42 votes out of 2.9 million ballots cast, the Democrats on Friday ordered a manual recount and went to the state Supreme Court to demand that some previously disqualified ballots be counted this time.
Elections officials from the state's three most populous counties briefed reporters on how the hand count will be conducted.
In King County, about 300 workers will have to manually tally 898,000 paper ballots, which King County Elections Director Dean Logan said should be done by Dec. 22, barring any legal challenges.
The counting process will continue seven days a week.
Most will be gathered at space leased by the county for the purpose at 9010 E. Marginal Way in Tukwila.
The workers include 80 people designated by each party to sit at tables with election workers counting ballots.
The recounting facility itself includes a fenced and locked area where the ballots can be stored when not being counted.
The goal of the procedure was to have the process be both secure and transparent, according to Logan, Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy and Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger.
The counties will not be reporting results as they go, however, according to Terwilliger. Instead, counties will report results only when their respective tallies are complete.
In most cases that's expected to be by Dec. 23.
Election officials across Washington state prepare for a second recount in the race for governor.
But the legal challenge launched by Democrats could also put off the day the results are known even farther.
The party has argued that some provisional ballots that were not counted in the initial tally or recount, should be re-examined. If the court rules with them, Logan said it would not likely change the result of the election since ballots were counted or disqualified based on state election law. But it would extend the counting process, Logan said.
It that case, he said, "it is almost guaranteed that at least for King County that this process will not completed by the end of the year."
Rossi, Gregoire on recount
Rossi said the Democrats' petition currently before the state Supreme Court that would allow more ballots to be counted is unfair.
"If the supreme court sides with Christine Gregoire, and they allow all these other ballots in that were deemed to be not legitimate ballots in the first count, its not a recount, its a new election," Rossi said.
Rossi also believes a hand recount won't necessarily give the most accurate result. He says machines are more accurate than humans.
But Gregoire says if a 42 vote margin doesn't justify a recount, what does?
"If not in this instance, as the law provides, then what would the instance be? 40 votes? I'm not doing anything that the law doesn't provide, (and) that hasn't been ratified in our state law for years."
The party is paying the heavy cost of the new recount, more than $700,000.
Reed's simple announcement to the 39 counties, signed in his office without fanfare, directs election departments to get started on Wednesday or Thursday. The count will take until Christmas week in some counties, especially King County, where a third of the voters live.
"Our assumption is that their job is to simply recount the ballots that were previously counted in the machine recount," Reed said in an interview. "However, in our rules we point out that the canvassing boards have the prerogative to take up and re-examine any problem ballots that have come to their attention ... and we are giving them the word that the Washington state Supreme Court will take up the Democrats' case on Thursday.
"But at this point, we are not authorizing them to go back and start all over again."
Democrats call for statewide recount
"We're going to count every vote in every county, whether it's a Rossi county or a Gregoire county," said Washington Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt. "By having a hand count, we will know once and for all who won this race."
But recounting the ballots by hand isn't all the Democrats have in mind.
At the same time they paid the $730,000 deposit for the recount, they filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court demanding that thousands of ballots previously deemed invalid be re-evaluated. The recount is to begin before the court rules on the case, but Berendt hoped the justices would rule before Dec. 23, the earliest the count could be finished.
Rossi said he was "disappointed and saddened" by Gregoire's attempt to "sue her way into the mansion."
"I have faith in you, the voters of Washington," Rossi said. "Unfortunately, Christine Gregoire has faith in lawyers."
Other Republican leaders were furious.
"It's outrageous," said state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance. "The Democrats are flat out trying to steal this election by changing the rules."
Vance said suing Secretary of State Sam Reed to force a reinterpretation of the ballot rules after the votes have been counted twice "is a nuclear bomb in the middle of the election process."
Vance was in Olympia yesterday afternoon, ready with a check and a long list of Republican precincts in which he would have demanded hand recounts had the Democrats gone forward with a request for a partial recount.
"We will fight this with everything we have -- our lawyers will want to be part of the case," Vance said. "But Christine Gregoire has given up any chance she had at being viewed as a legitimate governor -- even if she prevails in this."
Berendt countered that Republicans had threatened to "unleash lawyers from the Bush White House in an attempt to block every vote from being counted.
"We have the opposite goal," Berendt said. "We want every vote to be counted. We are taking steps in the Supreme Court to do just that, and to ensure that every ballot will be treated the same in every county throughout the state."
Reed, a Republican, did not ask county election officials to review absentee and provisional ballots originally determined invalid. On Monday, he will order the recount. Counties will begin the work Wednesday.
Reed said that attorneys for the Democrats were trying to use the courts to add more ballots to the overall count.
"The party that's behind always wants to have more ballots counted," Reed said. "The party that's ahead wants to have less ballots counted."
In King County alone, 2,478 absentee and provisional ballots were not counted because they were not signed or the signature didn't match the voter's registration file, according to King County Elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan.
And unless the high court rules in favor of the Democrats, they won't be counted, Egan said.
That's just fine by Rossi.
Democrats "say they want every vote counted," Rossi said. "We will be there to make sure every legal vote is counted. There's a distinction there."
The accuracy of the hand recount is another issue Republicans have raised concerns about.
State elections information manager Paul Miller said that, alone, hand counts are likely less accurate. But the system in place requires the manual tallies to be compared with the previous machine counts. With the cross-check, the count is "actually more accurate."
King County Elections Director Dean Logan disagreed.
Logan will do everything possible to make an accurate hand count, though he thinks manual counts are intrinsically less accurate, spokeswoman Egan said.
To their criticism, Berendt said: "Instead of relying on machines that got about 15,000 ballots wrong at the precinct level, we will have an open and consistent hand count of the vote. If the machines had done their jobs the first time, we would be in a hand count right now." Rossi won the first count by 261 votes, which forced an automatic machine recount, resulting in his 42-vote victory. Had the first count been that close, it would have triggered an automatic hand recount.
Gregoire, who was conspicuously absent from the Democrats' news conference, said she would have conceded if the Democrats had gone forward with a partial recount.
"I am grateful and humbled by the outpouring of support for a hand count of every vote. In the last 48 hours, tens of thousands of individuals contributed online and over the phone. We were inundated with e-mail messages and phone calls, all saying the same thing: Count every vote," Gregoire said.
Berendt said it had always been his intention to request the full count, but he was unsure if he could raise enough money in one week.
He said he was happy to be able to comply with Gregoire's request.
By last night the Democrats, who were broke after the Nov. 2 election, had raised more than $1 million. Major last-minute contributions included $250,000 from former presidential candidate John Kerry; $250,000 from the National Democratic Committee; $250,000 from the MoveOn PAC; and more than $200,000 from online donations spurred largely by a national appeal from former presidential candidate Howard Dean. A down payment of $700,000 was required to request a full statewide recount.
Both Rossi and Gregoire are working to set up their transition teams for their administrations.
"I think the people of the state of Washington are getting tired of this," Rossi said.
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