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Originally published Saturday, January 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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GOP suit doesn't ask to prevent swearing-in

Dino Rossi and the Republican Party asked a court yesterday to throw out the governor's election, claiming that a long list of errors deprived voters of their constitutional right...

Seattle Times staff reporters

Dino Rossi and the Republican Party asked a court yesterday to throw out the governor's election, claiming that a long list of errors deprived voters of their constitutional right to a "free and fair election" and that a new vote should be held.

The suit, filed in Chelan County, does not ask the court to stop the scheduled certification of Democrat Christine Gregoire's victory or her swearing-in set for Wednesday.

"It is clear this election is a mess," said Rossi, who won the initial vote and a machine recount, but lost in a hand recount. "The only remedy is a revote. It will help us cleanse the process."

The GOP suit sets up the likelihood that Gregoire will move into the governor's mansion, while across the mountains a small-town judge considers whether she should be tossed from the post.

A final decision on whether to ask a judge to stop the swearing-in has not been made, said Harry Korrell, the attorney for Rossi and the state Republican Party. But Korrell said it's unlikely anything could happen in time to stop it.

Republican lawmakers have said they will try to delay the Legislature's usually pro-forma vote certifying the election. Korrell said yesterday's lawsuit might bolster that effort.

"I suppose it's possible that the Legislature will see what's going on and do something," he said.

The legal issues could be resolved within weeks, Korrell said. The law says a hearing cannot be held until at least 10 days after a claim is filed, but no longer than 20 days after.

If a court called for a new election, Secretary of State Sam Reed said March is the earliest it could happen.

Gregoire said yesterday she doesn't take the challenge personally.

"I respect the rights of others to file an action in court. That's their right," she said. "I have to respect that, I'm the attorney general."

Problems that have been uncovered in the election, she said, "are in fact honest, potential mistakes. They are not fraudulent. They are not illegal."

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But the law says errors can also be grounds for "setting aside" an election. Rossi stressed that yesterday, saying he's not claiming a conspiracy to give Gregoire the election and said no one "is out to steal the election."

Instead, Republicans say thousands of illegal votes were counted statewide because of "errors, omissions, misconduct, neglect and other wrongful acts" by election officials.

That's enough, they argue, to make "the true result of the election uncertain and likely unknowable."


GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Dino Rossi meets with reporters yesterday at a news conference to announce the Republican Party's plans to file suit for a new governor's election.

"So long as the uncertainty remains, a cloud will exist over the legitimacy of any administration taking office," according to the Republican petition filed yesterday. "Because the true results cannot be ascertained, a new election must occur promptly to restore the integrity of Washington's election process."

The lawsuit was filed against the state's 39 counties, each county's chief election official, Secretary of State Sam Reed and two lawmakers who would sign the certificate of election, House Speaker Frank Chopp and Lt. Gov. Brad Owen.

Among the disputed issues are:

• The 348 provisional ballots King County officials said yesterday were improperly put into counting machines in polling places on election night rather than being kept separate for verification.

• Discrepancies in lists kept by counties that in some cases — primarily in King County — show more ballots were cast than people credited as voting in the election.

• Illegal votes by felons, dead people or by people other than those in whose name the ballot was submitted.

• Failing to ensure that military and overseas ballots were handled properly.

Republicans also claim that standards for counting and ballot verification varied county to county and that some counties improperly enhanced ballots when a voter's intent was not clear.

Earlier this week, King County said it had 3,539 more ballots counted than voters listed as having voted. Election officials yesterday said they narrowed the gap to 1,200 through a detailed review of records from polling places.

Logan said the remaining discrepancy is in line with past elections in King County and with this election in other counties. The numbers suggest that fewer than one voter per precinct may have failed to sign the poll book.

"We were over 99.98 percent accurate in accounting for the ballots and the voters in this election," Logan said.

"It wasn't a pretty election, it was messy," Logan said.

"I'm guessing that it's not over," he said. "It moves, appropriately so, to the judicial branch of government. We will wait to see what a judge tells us to do next."

State Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said the long-awaited Republican lawsuit fell flat.

"They provided nothing new and nothing to warrant overturning the election of Christine Gregoire as governor," Berendt said.

He also criticized Republicans for filing the suit in Chelan County, saying, "It was obvious that they decided to go to the most conservative county in the state that has the most conservative judges in the state."

Rossi won the governor's race in that county with 63 percent of the vote, one of his best showings.

But Korrell said they weren't looking for a friendly judge. He said there were other counties that could have provided that.

He said Republicans didn't want to file in a large Western Washington county because that's where most of the problems were found. Having the case heard by a judge in a county not so intricately involved in the case, he said, could put "perhaps a little more objective context to it."

Whatever happens in Chelan County, the case is expected to end up at the state Supreme Court.

There has never been a successful election contest of a statewide race in Washington. In 1974, the Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling in an Adams County Commission election. The race was nullified over concerns about ballot security.

The Supreme Court ruled "that the irregularity was such that the actual result of the voting could not be ascertained" and a new election should be held.

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or dpostman@seattletimes.com. Staff reporter Andrew Garber contributed to this report.

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