High Court rejects Washington Democrats' request to reconsider disqualified ballots - King County finds 561 uncounted ballots

12:35 PM PST on Tuesday, December 14, 2004


OLYMPIA, Wash. - The state Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously turned down the Democratic Party's request that previously rejected absentee and provisional ballots be included in the hand recount of the governor's race.

Republican Dino Rossi won the Nov. 2 election by 261 votes and held a 42-vote lead over Democrat Christine Gregoire after the first, machine recount.

In a brief written opinion, the high court said that under Washington law, "ballots are to be 'retabulated' only if they have been previously counted or tallied" - thus excluding those that had been disqualified by county canvassing boards.

"Obviously, we're disappointed by these results. But we're encouraged that errors will be corrected. We just wish the court and the secretary of state had ordered every canvassing board to look at errors," said David McDonald, recount director for the Washington Democratic Party and a named plaintiff in the suit.

Democrats have said they will not appeal the ruling.

The decision does not affect the 561 uncounted ballots in King County that were discovered Sunday to have been wrongfully rejected because of mistakes by election workers. Those ballots go to a canvassing board Wednesday for verification.

King County is Gregoire's biggest stronghold, so those ballots could tip the delicate balance of the election her way.

Rossi praised the Supreme Court's decision, but worried about the impact of the 561 previously disqualified ballots that will not be affected by the court's decision.

"Well, we're going to count this votes to make sure that these votes are counted correctly. We've won twice already. The only problems that seem to be coming up are coming up in King County, time and time again," Rossi said.

"The most likely outcome is Dino wins the hand recount, but we continue to worry about what's next in King County," said state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance.

He praised the Supreme Court's ruling.

"We thought all along we had the law on our side, but it's good to see it actually happen," Vance said. "It would have created complete and utter chaos if they had gone the other way."

Officials with the Democratic Party and Gregoire's campaign did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The state Democratic Party filed its lawsuit with the Supreme Court the same day it demanded a hand recount, which began last week.

The lawsuit sought to force officials in Washington's 39 counties to reconsider ballots that had been rejected - most notably in King County. Some weren't counted, for example, because the voter's signature on a mail-in ballot didn't match the signature on file and the voter didn't correct the record by the deadline.

Chief Justice Gerry Alexander wrote for the court, "We are mindful that King County rejected a higher percentage of signatures than did other counties, but the record before us does not establish the reason for that disparity, and it could be for factors other than the standard employed."

The hand recount is expected to take until at least Dec. 22 to complete. The inauguration for governor is scheduled for Jan. 12.



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