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Friday, December 17, 2004 - Page updated at 03:38 P.M.

Former Secretary of State pushes for new vote

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

Ralph Munro oversaw the state's elections system for 20 years before retiring in 2000.

Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro, a key supporter of Republican Dino Rossi during the contentious recounts in Washington's race for governor, says it may be time to toss out all of the votes and do the election over.

Munro, who oversaw the state's elections system for 20 years before retiring in 2000, said a new vote is probably the only way to restore voter confidence and get a clear winner.

His comments came as the state Republican Party prepared to file a lawsuit against King County seeking to stop the county's recount, and votes reported from Snohomish County further tightened the race between Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire.

"This thing could just degenerate and spiral downward," Munro said yesterday. "Whoever eventually becomes governor is going to have a very hard time governing, and we're going to go through four years of flopping around."

He suggested allowing new voter registrations for a few weeks, then holding a new election in February.

Democrats scoffed at the proposal, saying Republicans were raising it only because Rossi's whisker-thin lead appears in jeopardy.

"Last week the Republicans were saying we need to resolve this as quickly as possible," Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirstin Brost said. "This week they're saying we need another election."


JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Ray Martinez, left, and Paul DeGregorio from the United States Elections Assistance Commission listen at the King County canvassing board's meeting Wednesday, which focused on the manual recount at the King County Administration Building in Seattle.

State GOP chairman Chris Vance said he is warming to Munro's idea.

"Perhaps the only way we're going to settle this is to let the people of Washington vote again," he said.

Current Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, said a revote is doable and may be worth considering.

In the lawsuit Republicans plan to file today in Superior Court, they say that a new election could be called for if King County does not properly track 573 disputed ballots.

"If these disputed ballots are not kept separate from the sea of other tabulated ballots and kept with their security envelopes, a new election may be necessary," the suit says.

Rossi won the Nov. 2 election by 261 votes, but his lead fell to just 42 after a mandatory machine recount. He had been gaining votes in a second, manual recount that started last week. But his lead in the latest tally was cut in half yesterday after Gregoire made gains in Snohomish County.

With only three of 39 counties left to complete their recounts, Rossi has gained a net 32 votes over Gregoire. Pierce and Spokane counties are scheduled to report their recount totals today.

That will leave only King County, which is embroiled in controversy over 573 absentee ballots that election officials say were mistakenly rejected during the initial count.

That many new ballots in Democrat-dominated King County could hand the election to Gregoire.


JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Boxes containing rejected ballots wait to be counted Wednesday at the King County Administration Building in Seattle.

County officials say the ballots were not originally counted because the voters' signatures had not been scanned into the county's computer system. Election workers should have checked paper files, but instead the ballots were rejected.

In a split vote Wednesday, the county's canvassing board directed election workers to verify the signatures on the ballots and prepare them for counting.

Vance said the party wants to stop King County from separating the ballots from their outer envelopes, which he said would make it harder to determine where the ballots came from, whether they were stored correctly, and why they had not been counted previously.

A Pierce County judge will hear the party's request this afternoon for a temporary restraining order that would prohibit King County from making any moves toward counting the disputed ballots. The party went to court in Pierce County because it is neutral ground in this case.

Republicans want King County to prepare a written report on "the circumstances surrounding the discovery and treatment of these ballots" before officials consider whether they should be counted.

The lawsuit alleges the ballots had not been properly secured since the Nov. 2 election and that an investigation is necessary because "the appearance of possible impropriety is troubling."

Republicans say their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection will be violated if King County counts the disputed ballots. They say state law prohibits the canvassing board from reconsidering the ballots.

"As a result of this unauthorized recanvass, voters in King County are more likely [to] have their votes counted than voters in other counties," the suit says.

Yesterday afternoon, two King County voters whose ballots were among those rejected joined Democratic County Councilman Larry Phillips, whose ballot was also rejected, on steps of the county administration building to ask that their votes be counted.

Cecily Kaplan of Shoreline and Johanna Landis of Seattle said they weren't notified by the county that it couldn't find their signatures on file and therefore didn't plan to count their absentee ballots.

Phillips, who learned Sunday his vote wasn't counted in the original tally or the subsequent machine recount, blasted what he called a Republican "disinformation campaign" orchestrated by Vance.

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, also took part in the event.

"We really think both Democrats and Republicans should take a deep breath, relax a little bit and let everybody's vote be counted, and we can have a new governor by Christmas," Inslee said.

It's not only Democrats who want the 573 ballots counted.

Chantelle Weaver, a South Seattle resident, voted for Rossi and discovered this week she was on the list of people whose votes were disqualified.

"I did everything I needed to do to get my vote counted," said Weaver, who added it was her first time voting.

She disagrees with the Republicans' effort to block the ballots from being counted.

"I figure every vote should be counted, whether I win or not," Weaver said.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Reed said he still hoped the second recount would settle the question. He said there is nothing in state law that provides for a revote, but theorized the Legislature or the courts could order one.

"We certainly could do it," he said.

Reed said he would rather see a new election than see the race drag on in court. But he hasn't given up hope the race could be settled by Christmas.

"I'm still hoping that when we get done with this recount, we'll have a clear winner and can get on with the transition," Reed said. "I think we'd be better off if that happened."

Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or rthomas@seattletimes.com

Times staff reporters Keith Ervin, Susan Gilmore and Emily Heffter contributed to this report, along with The Associated Press.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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