Furor over absentee ballot delay
King County takes heat as state GOP chief blasts 'gross incompetence'



Seattle, WA - On the eve of today's statewide election -- when voters will decide critical issues from the future of Washington's transportation system to control of the Legislature -- frustrations increased over the delayed issuance of thousands of King County absentee ballots.

Some voters -- including military personnel stationed abroad -- still didn't have ballots yesterday, some political leaders and officials said.

The situation has one political leader threatening a lawsuit, county officials calling for a comprehensive review and state authorities examining whether they can -- and should -- step in.

"If we lose a (King County) legislative race by a very small margin -- by 100 votes or less -- I'm going to court," said Chris Vance, state Republican Party chairman. "I don't think there was a plot. I think it's gross incompetence."

County election officials insist that all voters who have contacted them now have ballots.

But King County Councilman Rob McKenna said voters were still complaining to him and other council members that they didn't have ballots yesterday.

And Vance said he's worried about voters who are out of state or abroad. Vance said his office got an e-mail yesterday from an Army officer stationed in Asia who said he still didn't have his ballot.

"I can't imagine this person's the only one," Vance said. "It's deplorable."

Secretary of State Sam Reed has asked the federal Defense Department to track whether any military personnel from King County are unable to vote because of delays, he said.

The state Attorney General's Office has looked into whether it could reasonably ask a court to allow such ballots to be counted even if they're postmarked after the midnight deadline, said Attorney General Christine Gregoire.

But courts have ruled, including in the lawsuit over Florida's handling of the 2000 presidential election, that officials can not extend the deadline after the polls have closed, regardless of errors in the issuance of ballots, Gregoire said.

King County election officials, meanwhile, believe that all voters -- here and abroad -- now have their ballots, said Bob Roegner, head of records and elections.

Anyone who doesn't have a ballot can contact the county at 206-296-VOTE, vote at their polling station, or just go to any polling station if need be, Roegner said.

If it comes to it, Roegner said, overseas military personnel can make arrangements through the county to vote by fax or e-mail, he said. And he has ordered a staff member to conduct an internal review of the entire process. He expects final findings within several days.

Reed's office predicts that of Washington's 3.3 million voters, only 60 percent will cast ballots, which is below average for a midterm election. He expects two-thirds of those to vote by absentee, and that in close races the final outcomes might not be known for days, perhaps even weeks.

The issues voters will decide today include:


Referendum 51, a $7.8 billion package aimed mainly at fixing and expanding the state's roads. The measure would raise the gasoline tax by 9 cents a gallon, impose a 1 percent tax on the sale of new and used vehicles, and increase the weight fee for long haul trucks by 30 percent.

The measure earmarks the largest chunk of money, $1.77 billion, for Interstate 405. About $900 million of that would go for one interchange alone: the state Route 167 and 405 junction that is one of the most gridlocked in the state.

More than $2 billion of the $7.8 billion would go for ferries, Amtrak, local government transportation projects and public transportation.Seattle's monorail proposal, in which voters will decide whether to spend $1.75 billion for a 14-mile line between West Seattle and Ballard. After voters twice approved initiatives calling for the creation of a monorail plan, the measure appeared headed to victory a couple of weeks ago.

But in the last few weeks, opponents have questioned everything from its cost to whether building a monorail line would be an eyesore through the city's downtown.

Initiative 776, a statewide ballot measure that could help shape the future of Sound Transit.

The statewide initiative would do away with a $15 licensing fee charged in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Douglas counties, costing them about $165 million over the next five years for road and other transportation projects. It also would abolish a 0.3 percent excise tax for Sound Transit collected in most parts of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The agency stands to lose 20 percent of its financing for bus, commuter rail and its light-rail project.

Legislative elections:

All 98 members of the state House of Representatives, and 24 of 49 state senators, stand for election today. The majority -- and control -- of both chambers is very much in play. Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities in both houses, but Republicans outpolled them overall in the September primary.

Congressional races:

Most political analysts expect all nine of Washington's incumbent members of Congress -- six Democrats and three Republicans -- to win re-election, although freshman Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen faces probably the most spirited challenge, from former congressional aide Norma Smith, a Republican. They are running in northwest Washington's 2nd District.

State Supreme Court:

Voters also must decide vigorous contests for two seats on the state Supreme Court. The closest race is between veteran constitutional lawyer Jim Johnson, 57, and senior assistant attorney general Mary Fairhurst, 45, who both seek the seat being vacated by retiring Justice Charles Z. Smith. Johnson is running with heavy backing from the building industry and property rights advocates, and Fairhurst is a senior assistant attorney general.

And Justice Charles Johnson, 51, no relation to Jim Johnson, seeks re-election to Position 4 seat on the court, which he has held for 12 years.

His challenger is Pamela Loginsky, 44, staff attorney for the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Local elections:

In Pierce County, Tacoma voters will decide if they want to change an anti-discrimination law. If the initiative passes, it would be legal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, lending and public accommodations.

In Snohomish County, Democratic challenger Janice Ellis is attempting to oust incumbent prosecutor Jim Krider.

On the Eastside, residents in Bellevue and Kirkland will decide if they want higher property taxes in exchange for open space preservation and new and improved parks.


VOTING HOURS: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., with midnight postmark deadline for mail-in ballots.

TURNOUT: 60 percent of state's 3.3 million registered voters expected to cast ballots. Two-thirds of those expected to vote by mail, meaning close races won't be final for days.

WHERE TO VOTE: You must vote in your own precinct's polling place. Its location is shown on your voter-registration card. You may also vote by absentee ballot.


King County: www.metrokc.gov/elections/; 206-296-1565

Pierce County: auditor.co.pierce.wa.us/ elections.htm; 253-798-7427

Snohomish County: www.co.snohomish.wa.us/auditor/ AElecDiv.asp; 425-388-3444

Kitsap County: www.kitsapgov.com/; 360-337-7128.

Washington state: www.vote.wa.gov


For comprehensive election coverage, go to seattlepi.com

P-I reporters Jane Hadley, Larry Lange, Neil Modie, Kery Murakami, Margaret Taus and Brad Wong contributed this report.


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