Judge allows fraud claims to go forward in election challenge
03:37 PM PDT on Tuesday, May 24, 2005
WENATCHEE, Wash. - The judge hearing a challenge to Washington state's 2004 gubernatorial election agreed Tuesday to let Republicans introduce evidence that Democratic-leaning King County recorded several hundred more votes than it could account for.
Republicans allege errors and possible fraud in the county, which includes Seattle, helped Democrats steal the election for Christine Gregoire, who beat Republican Dino Rossi by 129 votes out of 2.9 million cast.
"The evidence is overwhelming that there was unbelievable neglect in King County and, we believe, outright fraud by high-ranking King County officials," GOP attorney Dale Foreman said Monday.
Democrats had tried to block the GOP evidence, saying Republicans had brought up the issue too late and with no evidence to back up its claims.
Chelan County Superior Court Judge John E. Bridges said Tuesday he didn't believe the GOP claim was new. However, the judge added: "The court is not in a position at this time to determine that these are illegal votes."
Election officials say it's normal for the number of ballots cast in an election to be greater than the number of people credited with voting. Among other reasons, some voters forget to sign in when they cast their ballots, and under federal rules, some military ballots can be cast by voters not registered in the county.
Among those called to the stand Tuesday was Chelan County Auditor Evelyn Arnold, called by Republican attorneys in an effort to demonstrate how a proper election should be run.
"If we have 5,000 poll site voters, and we go through and we give everyone a credit, we run a report and the report of credited voters had better come up to 5,000," she said.
Arnold said in her Chelan County poll and absentee ballots absolutely have to reconcile with the number of actual voters.
"Without reconciliation, you don't know if something's missing," she said.
Republicans hope the judge will see a sharp contrast between the way Chelan County and King County ran the election.
Democrats quickly pointed out it's not fair to compare Chelan to King County, which had more than 500 polling sites. Chelan has seven.
Neverthless, Republicans maintain that there's still no excuse for the mistakes in King County.
To prove their point, they called to the stand King County Election Superintendent Bill Huennekens, who admitted that even Tuesday, King County wasn't quite sure of the numbers.
"We physically have them, what an exact number is, I don't know that we have an exact number of absentee ballots returned," Huennekens said.
Before Monday's opening arguments, Republicans had largely complained of bungling rather than outright fraud on the part of election officials.
Among the evidence of alleged fraud cited by the GOP is sworn testimony from a King County elections worker who said she and the assistant election superintendent agreed to a report that falsely showed that all absentee ballots had been accounted for.
In his deposition, the superintendent said the county's election superintendent, Bill Huennekens, knew about the flaws in the report before the county canvassing board certified the results.
"He allowed this fraud on the citizens to go forward," Foreman alleged in his opening statement.
Democrats and their lawyers scoffed at the GOP's fraud allegations.
"There is no question who won this election," Democratic attorney Kevin Hamilton said in his opening statement, standing by a poster-sized copy of the certification of Gregoire's election. Instead of fraud, Hamilton said, the GOP is presenting "a loose collection of administrative errors."
Rossi filed the election challenge after winning the first two counts, only to lose a final, hand recount by 129 votes to Gregoire. On Monday, Gregoire's office said she was too busy to follow the trial. Rossi's campaign office said he watched it on television. Neither plans to attend the trial.
KING 5's Robert Mak contributed to this report