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Washington Calmly Awaits New Governor
The Associated Press   16 November 2004

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Two weeks after the election, Washington state still doesn't have a new governor. And voters are weathering the suspense the way Seattle residents shrug off the rain.

"People in this part of the world tend to be rather pleasant. They expect people to be civil in the way they behave," said Ken Hoover, a political scientist at Western Washington University. "New York, this isn't. That's why people like to live here."

The vote-counting is still going on. As of Monday night, Democratic state Attorney General Christine Gregoire led by just 158 votes out of 2.8 million cast, after a week of trailing Republican real estate agent Dino Rossi. Gregoire had 1,360,871 votes to Rossi's 1,360,713.

Across the state, about 22,000 votes remained to be counted. Of the six counties with the most votes outstanding, three favor Rossi and three Gregoire.

"Washington voters have come to expect to wait for returns," said Bobbie Egan, King County elections spokeswoman. "Counting absentee ballots just takes a long time."

While protests broke out in Florida after the 2000 presidential election, no angry mobs have stormed the county canvassing centers in Washington - not even slightly ticked-off mobs. People may be on the edge of their seats, but they are sitting quietly and politely.

Glacially slow vote-counting goes with the territory in Washington politics.

In most states, mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day. Washington and Alaska, however, require only that ballots be postmarked by Election Day. With an estimated 60 percent of Washingtonians voting by mail, close races can drag on for weeks as absentee ballots trickle in to county offices.

The 2000 U.S. Senate race took several weeks of counting and recounting before Democrat Maria Cantwell was declared the winner over Republican incumbent Slade Gorton.

One veteran of the Gorton campaign is now Rossi's spokeswoman.

"Boy, can I pick 'em," Mary Lane said in an opinion piece she wrote about the highs and lows of a close Washington state election. "On the days when your boss is up or trending up, you're ecstatic, thinking for sure he's gonna win. On the bad days, well, you're pretty much crushed. That's not a recipe for healthy living."

Wednesday is the deadline to finish counting, so Washington should know who the next governor is by then. Unless, of course, there are recounts.

Under state law, a recount must be held if the final margin of victory is less than 2,000 votes and one-half of 1 percent. Six statewide vote recounts have been held since 1968, though none of them changed the outcome.

Gregoire was heavily favored going into the race. For a while during the vote-counting, it looked as though Rossi would pull off a huge political upset and become Washington's first Republican governor in 20 years.

Some glitches have surfaced. Elections officials in Grays Harbor County started recounting all 30,000 ballots on Tuesday after discovering a problem in the computer reporting system. And King County, the state's largest, announced at the last minute that it had 10,000 more uncounted ballots than previously estimated.

The pressure may be getting to some. Democratic State Party chairman Paul Berendt wept openly on Friday after a judge ruled in favor of the party's effort to track down 929 people whose provisional ballots were in danger of being invalidated.

"We were just trying to get people their right to vote," he said. "It meant a lot to me."

Outside the campaign headquarters, though, people are taking the drawn-out election in stride.

"We're civilized enough out here. We have faith in our democracy," said Jean Wright, 44, a construction inspector in Olympia, Washington's capitol city. "To have every vote counted, that's most important to me." Still, she said, "I am dying to find out."

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