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Democrats sue Washington's biggest county over provisional ballots

PEGGY ANDERSEN, Associated Press Writer

Friday, November 12, 2004
(11-12) 15:08 PST SEATTLE (AP)

Washington state Democrats, fearful their candidate for governor might narrowly lose because of disputed ballots, sued election officials Friday in the state's largest county.

The lawsuit would block election officials in King County, home to Seattle, from discarding about 900 provisional ballots. Party officials hoped they could get a decision later in the day.

"We have one objective: Count every vote," said Paul Berendt, the state party chairman.

The legal wrangling is the result of the closest gubernatorial race in state history. As of Friday morning, Republican Dino Rossi led Democrat Christine Gregoire by about 3,600 votes out of over 2.7 million counted. The count could drag on into next week.

Counties estimated they have about 85,000 ballots left to count, mostly provisional ballots such as those that are the subject of the Democrats' lawsuit. King County has about 25,000 ballots left to count, mostly provisionals which are essentially backup ballots that are cast when a resident's registration is in dispute.

Democrats demanded that King County not discard hundreds of provisional ballots and give the party and the voters a chance to fix technical problems, such as not signing the ballot envelope.

The move was criticized by Republicans, who said Democrats threatened to turn the gubernatorial election into "another Florida."

Thus far, the county has declined to count about 900 provisional ballots because they did not include a proper signature. The voters were being notified of the deficiency and have until Tuesday to submit the proper signature verification.

Also Friday, election materials from a southern Indiana congressional district were impounded after Democrats requested a recount amid concerns that optical-scan voting systems did not work properly.

Three-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Baron Hill lost the 9th District to Republican challenger Mike Sodrel by 1,485 votes, but questions arose about whether the machines correctly recorded some straight party-line votes.

The Indiana Recount Commission called an emergency meeting Friday to impound election materials. Hill sought the districtwide recount Thursday after a recount in Franklin County showed about 600 straight-Democratic Party votes had gone to Libertarians in initial tabulating.

Franklin County is not in the 9th District, but three counties that are also used optical-scan voting systems provided by the same manufacturer.

"I think legitimate questions have been raised," Hill spokesman Stefan Bailey said. "We need to make sure the voters know the final and legitimate outcome of this election."

The problem was caused by an error in an election-tabulation database that assigned straight-party Democratic votes to Libertarians and vice versa, Franklin County Clerk Marlene Flaspohler said.

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