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Originally published Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Live inauguration coverage: AP | Washington Post | KUOW

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Republican Dino Rossi can stay "GOP' on gubernatorial ballot

King County Superior Court Judge Richard Eadie ruled Friday that Republican governor candidate Dino Rossi could keep his designation as "prefers GOP Party" on the November General Election ballot. The Washington State Democrats sued to force Rossi to describe himself as a Republican.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Some voters might be confused about what "GOP" means, a King County Superior Court judge said Friday, but that's not reason enough to change the way gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi describes himself on the general election ballot.

Rossi, a Republican, used the Republican Party's nickname, "GOP," when he filed in June to run against Gov. Christine Gregoire. The primary ballot listed his party as "prefers GOP party," and that same designation will carry over to the November ballot.

State Democrats sued last week, saying Rossi was trying to hide his party affiliation because of low approval ratings for the party nationally. They cited a recent poll that showed some voters don't know what GOP means.

"The use of the term 'GOP' by Dino Rossi to try to cloak his membership in the Republican Party, we think, is a tactic that shouldn't be allowed to be used," said Kevin Hamilton, an attorney for the Democrats.

Republicans and the Rossi campaign argued that Rossi has used the term "GOP" for years and that voters know what it means.

The state, arguing against the Democratic Party's lawsuit, said there wasn't time to reprint thousands of ballots that already have been readied for the November election. More than 2,000 military ballots have been mailed, and almost 150 have been completed and returned, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

"I'm not sure the extent to which all of the parties to this litigation get the fact that the general election is already under way," said Katie Blinn, the state assistant director of elections.

Much of Friday's hearing was spent discussing the administrative hassle that would come with reprinting ballots. But Judge Richard Eadie said it came down to two state statutes: one that says candidates can list their own party affiliations, and one that says the affiliations should be listed the same way on both primary- and general-election ballots.

"It seems to me some confusion is unavoidable — inevitable," Eadie said. But he felt it was better to take the chance some people might be confused in the governor's race than to have two different ballots being used in the same election.

"I think going out and changing the ballot now ... would open the door to any number of issues about the finality of this election," he said.

The Democrats pointed to a Sept. 19 letter indicating that Republican leaders, too, have been concerned about polls by local pollster Stuart Elway showing that as many as 18 percent of Republicans didn't know that GOP and Republican are synonyms.

The letter from Republican Party attorney John White to the Public Disclosure Commission concerned an unrelated complaint about the party's use of funds.

White wrote that the party had sent a mailer to its members making sure they understood that Rossi was the Republican candidate for governor.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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