Rossi files suit for a new vote - Trying to nullify Gregoire win, Republican cites series of errors
Seattle, WA - 1/8/05 - Republican Dino Rossi formally contested the November election yesterday, claiming that errors, negligence and misconduct have made it impossible to know who really won the closest governor's race in U.S. history.
In a lawsuit filed in Chelan County Superior Court, Rossi asked that Gov.-elect Christine Gregoire's 129-vote victory be nullified and a new election ordered.
"The number of illegal votes counted, and the number of valid votes improperly rejected in this election, are so great as to render the true result of the election uncertain and likely unknowable," the lawsuit claimed.
Gregoire, who is set to be sworn into office Wednesday, has maintained that the idea of a re-vote is "ludicrous." But she said yesterday that she respects Rossi's right to have his day in court.
"I don't take any of this personally," Gregoire said. "I respect the right of others to file an action in court. That's their right."
Rossi, seeking to become the state's first Republican governor since John Spellman left office 20 years ago, won the initial Nov. 2 tally by 261 votes of nearly 2.9 million cast. He then prevailed in an automatic recount by 42 votes, before the state Democratic Party demanded and paid for a third and final count, this time by hand, resulting in Gregoire's 129-vote victory.
Rossi based his election challenge heavily on the fact that county records around the state show more votes counted than people credited with voting.
Complete lists from King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap and Clark counties accounted for 1,979 fewer voters than votes counted. Although that number was considerably smaller than the Republicans' earlier estimate of 8,400 votes, it was still statistically significant in such a close election, Rossi said.
King County counted 1,217 more votes than people credited with voting. Also troubling, Republicans said, was the fact that more than 300 provisional ballots in King County were counted without first being verified as valid.
Rossi's spokeswoman Mary Lane said that doesn't matter.
"We know that the system has been broken for some time and it's just now that we have such a close race that the problems have really come to light," Lane said.
Paul Berendt, the state Democratic Party chairman, said the Republicans had presented a weak case that falls far short of demonstrating the widespread allegations of fraud that have been flying for weeks.
Republicans are now "sheepishly admitting that there was no evidence of fraud," Berendt said.
Rossi supporters, including former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, countered that it's not incumbent on Rossi to prove fraud.
"The number of votes cast questionably, illegally or mistakenly is vastly in excess of the 129-vote margin by which this election was certified," Gorton said.
Gorton, who is also a former state attorney general, said a longstanding law "deals precisely with a question of this nature. It gives the court a right to void an election where the number of illegal or mistaken votes is in excess of the margin of victory."
Gorton said he is absolutely convinced that the Rossi campaign can prove that case.
"It's clear that this election was a mess," Rossi said. "We found people who are felons who had voted. We found people who had voted more than once. We've also found people who remained politically active after they were dead. That's a problem."
King County Elections Director Dean Logan acknowledged that several dead people were credited with voting.
"These isolated situations need to be put into perspective," Logan said. "There is a clear difference between an individual act and organized fraud intended to skew an election. In this case, there is no evidence this was done for purposes of benefiting a particular candidate or political party."
Logan said his office has reported to the county prosecutor the names of two people who told reporters they cast an absentee ballot for their dead spouse.
Some people complained yesterday that they've unsuccessfully tried to get authorities to remove dead relatives from voting lists.
Martin Ringhofer said he's been getting absentee ballots for his parents, Margarette and Ludwig Ringhofer, since they died in 1996 and 1997. He said he's called King County a couple of times to get them removed from the list, but to no avail.
Ballots for both his long-dead parents showed up last fall for both the primary and general election, he said.
Ringhofer -- who works at Boeing and has run for the Seattle School Board and campaigned for other issues in the past -- said his parents' continued presence on the voter rolls makes him wonder how many other dead people are still getting ballots.
"If something this bizarre could happen, what else is going on?" he said. "I get the definite feeling that with the difference in ballots right now, that this election was decided by people who voted on the ballots of dead people who shouldn't even be getting the ballots anymore."
"I never would have thought that I live in the city that's going to be made the laughingstock of the country. Never mind Florida and the chads. It's going to be Seattle and the dead."
A few times each year the state sends each county a list of people who have died, but sometimes county auditors never learn of a voter's death because the information is sent to another county, said Pamela Floyd, the assistant elections director for voter services at the Secretary of State's Office.
The state is required by law to send monthly lists of the deceased to county auditors so they can purge names from their voter rolls.
The notification is sent to the county of residence as it appears on the death certificate, Floyd said. If someone registered to vote in King County ends his days in a nursing home in Spokane, the person filling out the death certificate information might put Spokane as county of residence. The King County elections office would not be informed of that death, and that person would remain on the rolls.
Berendt said Republicans must prove, but still haven't, that the problems would have changed the outcome of the election.
But Harry Korrell, the lawyer for the GOP, said: "If you can't tell who won an election because of errors and mistakes, you have to rerun it."
"What we think the evidence is showing is that despite the common sense that every vote should have a voter, there are thousands of votes that have no voters, there are hundreds of provisional ballots that have never been validated and checked," he said.
Korrell said the legal questions of the challenge could be addressed in "weeks, not months" and the revote could be conducted sometime after that.
The suit was filed in Chelan County to avoid arguing the case in one of the Western Washington counties where the problems were most acute, Korrell said.
"It's obvious that the Republicans went judge shopping," Berendt said. "They were looking for a partisan judge and Chelan County is one of the most Republican counties in the state."
Gregoire, the two-term attorney general, said she has an obligation to move forward. And to those who question whether she'll be able to advance her agenda, she said former Gov. Booth Gardner, the Democrat who succeeded Spellman in 1985, recently offered his encouragement and told her what to expect.
"He reminded me ... in one month he can guarantee the knock at that door will be: 'Are you going to sign my bill? Are you going to put what I want in your budget?' "
P-I reporters Michelle Nicolosi, Christine Frey and Lewis Kamb contributed
to this report.
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