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Saturday, November 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:20 A.M.
Rossi leading; Gregoire allies win in court
As Dino Rossi clung to a 1,920-vote lead over Christine Gregoire in the governor's race last night, Gregoire's allies won a court victory that could help them eke out a few hundred more votes in a race that still appears too close to call.
With about 40,000 ballots left to count nearly two weeks after Election Day, the situation remains unpredictable because Gregoire's percentage of the vote has been improving in the latest counts in some counties, including King.
King County has an estimated 11,000 votes left to count next week. Gregoire could pull around 3,000 more votes out of those ballots than Rossi, based on the latest trends. But that could be offset by more than 20,000 uncounted ballots in counties were Rossi leads.
Both campaigns yesterday said they were happy with the way the count is going.
"We're still ahead even after the King County vote drop," said Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane. "We wouldn't have been surprised to have been down."
Gregoire's campaign predicted victory for their side. "We're tentatively upbeat and we feel like Chris is going to win," spokesman Morton Brilliant said.
Democrats hope yesterday's court decision will help.
The party aims to use the list to contact voters over the weekend and try to resolve the signature problems so their ballots can be counted. Provisional ballots are used when voters cast ballots outside their regular polling place or when there are uncertainties about someone's eligibility to vote. They also include voters who requested absentee ballots but didn't receive them, so had to vote at the polls.
Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt appeared overjoyed by the decision. "This is a wonderful victory for voters," said Berendt, tears streaming down his face. "This will send a message to auditors across the state that this is a matter of public record."
Democrats want every possible provisional ballot counted in pro-Gregoire King County, in part because many provisional voters are college students who are expected to have voted for Gregoire.
Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance said the ruling won't help Gregoire. "We think the numbers keep adding up for Dino," he said.
Lum ruled that the list of the provisional voters whose votes were disqualified because signatures on their ballots didn't match those on their voter registration forms should be released.
The county had argued that they were not releasable under the new Help America Vote Act passed following the 2000 election. Prosecutor Janine Joly argued that King County had already complied with the act by providing a way for voters to see if their votes were counted.
"We'll go door to door to make sure they come to the courthouse to defend their votes," Berendt said.
The 929 ballots rejected because of signature problems were just a fraction of the nearly 32,000 provision ballots voted in King County. More provisional ballots were rejected for other reasons, as officials couldn't prove the voters were registered. King County Elections Director Dean Logan predicts that, overall, more than 80 percent of the provisional ballots will be counted.
Following Lum's decision, Logan said, "This is the value of judicial review and our legal system. It is appropriate for us to take direction from the court versus outside political interests when legal provisions are in conflict."
The voter list, which includes names and addresses, was turned over to the Democrats by 5 p.m. yesterday. Berendt argued that King County treats provisional ballots differently than it treats absentee ballots. If there's a problem counting an absentee ballot, King County contacts the voter to give them the opportunity to fix the problem, but doesn't do the same for disqualified provisional voters, said Berendt.
Lum agreed in ordering that the voter list be considered a public record and available to the Democratic party.
"Voting laws must be administered without discrimination," said Lum. "It does not make sense that [the list of voters who cast] provisional ballots should remain secret."
While voters who kept their ballot receipt could check on the King County Web site to see if their votes were counted, King County ran out of provisional-ballot envelopes in some precincts and voters were not given tracking numbers.
Logan said the only way for those voters to know whether their votes were counted is to call the King County Elections Office.
He said all voters whose votes weren't counted will be notified by mail after the election is certified, too late to affect this election.
Counties must finish counting and certify their election returns by Wednesday, but a recount mandatory if the final gap is less than 2,000 votes could delay the process even longer.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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