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Originally published Thursday, December 23, 2004 at 12:00 AM

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Focus turns to canvassing board

Forget the hanging chads and the mismarked ballot bubbles, the green pens and the sloppy voters. The gubernatorial election could be decided today by the little-known King County...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Forget the hanging chads and the mismarked ballot bubbles, the green pens and the sloppy voters.

The gubernatorial election could be decided today by the little-known King County canvassing board.

The three-member panel, which decides which ballots are eligible to be counted and certifies election returns, is made up of two Democrats and one Republican.

But despite the partisan swirl that has surrounded the governor's race, nearly all canvassing-board decisions in this election have been unanimous, and members say their focus is on trying to apply the rules fairly.

"We're determining the validity of votes and ballots one at a time," said Dan Satterberg, a Republican appointed to the board by King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng. "It reminds me of when I would umpire Little League games," Satterberg said. "You never want the umpire's call to make the decision in the game."

Maleng is a longtime fixture in GOP circles, but Satterberg says he is not active in party politics.

The other two members of the board, both Democrats, are King County Councilman Dwight Pelz and Dean Logan, head of King County Elections.

On the agenda


Today, 10 a.m. King County's canvassing board will decide which of the more than 700 disputed absentee ballots will be counted.

Today, 3 p.m. The county canvassing board is scheduled to meet again to certify the county's final numbers in the manual recount for the governor's race.

John Pearson, deputy director of elections for the Secretary of State's Office, said in some counties -- particularly those in Republican Eastern Washington -- canvassing boards are all members of the same party.

"At least with canvassing boards, you know what everyone's politics are," he said. "This certainly has focused attention on canvass boards, and that's not a bad thing."

Last week, in one of the rare votes where the board disagreed, Pelz and Logan voted to process the disputed absentee ballots, which Logan says were erroneously rejected after election workers failed to locate voters' signatures in county files. Satterberg, saying he wanted more time to consider the question, voted no.

A Pierce County judge ordered the county not to count the ballots, but the state Supreme Court reversed that decision yesterday.

Asked whether he felt pressure because his decisions could elect a governor, Pelz said he doesn't. "We will act on these ballots on the guidelines of law. We'll do what's right and uphold the law."

Logan, appointed by King County Executive Ron Sims, said it's not the canvassing board that matters, but the votes themselves.

"Are these legitimate registered voters? The facts show they are," Logan said. "It weighs heavily on me that they might well determine who's governor. What weighs heavily on me is my administration made the error."

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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