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Gray's Harbor County re-count boosts Gregoire


By REBECCA COOK  / Associated Press

The super-close race for governor took two new twists on Tuesday, as Grays Harbor County announced it is re-counting all ballots and the state Republican Party went to court to stop King County from counting some provisional ballots.

On Monday night, Democrat Christine Gregoire edged ahead by 158 votes out of 2.8 million cast after days of trailing Republican Dino Rossi. The re-count in Grays Harbor County was more good news for Gregoire.

Rossi had been leading by 231 votes in the southwestern Washington county. After the re-count, Auditor Vern Spatz estimated that Gregoire would lead by 277 votes.

The ballots were counted properly, Spatz said, but some votes were reported twice because of human error while transferring data to the computer reporting system. The Aberdeen Daily World first reported the re-count on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the state GOP filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court to try to stop the count of some provisional ballots. Democrats on Monday had turned in affidavits from 400 voters whose provisional ballot signatures did not match their signature on file with their voter registration.

State GOP Chairman Chris Vance said King County should not count those 400 provisional ballots, unless the county can independently confirm their legitimacy.

"They should make sure that the ballot was actually cast by the registered voter. And the only way to do that is to either match the signature to what they have on file or require the voter to come in person to King County elections office and confirm that they cast the ballot," Vance said before a Tuesday court hearing on the matter. "Obviously the potential for fraud is great if we are going to rely on affidavits collected by partisan campaign workers."

Grays Harbor County election workers were scrambling to re-count about 28,000 ballots. Spatz said the problems were definitely accidental.

"I guarantee you, we did not want to be in this situation," he said Tuesday. "We are re-counting 100 percent of all ballots. It's very important to us that the election be an open process and everybody is comfortable with those numbers."

Observers from Gregoire's campaign, the state and local Republican parties, and news reporters were watching the re-count, Spatz said. He said he expects to meet Wednesday's deadline for counties to certify results to the state.

"It emphasizes how much every single vote is going to count in this election," said Morton Brilliant, Gregoire's campaign spokesman.

Spatz said unusually high turnout aroused suspicion that something might be wrong. On Monday, Grays Harbor County was reporting 93 percent turnout, much higher than anywhere else in the state. Officials checked the system and found the problem.

After ballots were counted, the results were saved on computer disks and downloaded into another computer to keep a running tally. Some of the disks were apparently downloaded twice by mistake, Spatz said.

Statewide as of Monday evening, Gregoire had 1,360,871 votes to Rossi's 1,360,713. Libertarian Ruth Bennett had 62,439 votes.

Rossi's campaign was thrown for a loop by the news on Monday that King County ? where Gregoire is winning ? had about 10,000 more ballots than previously estimated.

"We definitely want to find out where all these additional ballots came from," Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane said. "We can still win this thing. Obviously it's going to be a much closer race, where literally every vote will count."

On Monday morning, King County estimated it had about 11,000 votes remaining to count. But that estimate was revised upward to 21,000.

Bobbie Egan, spokeswoman for the King County elections office, said the county verified more provisional ballots than expected and absentee ballot turnout was higher than projected. Election workers counted 17,000 ballots Monday, so 4,000 remain to be counted.

Gregoire has served as state attorney general for the last 12 years and ran on her record of public service, while also promising change in the governor's office. Rossi, a commercial real estate agent and two-term state senator, touted his business experience and told voters he would be the real candidate for change. No Republican has been elected governor in Washington since 1980.

Not including Grays Harbor county, about 22,000 votes remain to be counted statewide. Of the six counties with more than a thousand votes outstanding, three favor Rossi ? Benton, Skagit and Yakima ? and three favor Gregoire ? King, Thurston and Whatcom.

After the votes are counted and Washington finally has a winner, the next question is whether there will be a re-count.

If the margin of victory is less than 2,000 votes and one-half of 1 percent, state law requires an automatic re-count, funded by taxpayers. The re-count would probably take about four days, state Elections Director Nick Handy said.

Candidates and political parties can also demand a re-count themselves, regardless of how close the election is ? provided they pay for it.

None of the six re-counts in statewide elections since 1968 has changed the final results of an election.

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