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Gregoire urges Rossi: Let's accept result of hand recount


OLYMPIA When two tabulations of the governor's race showed that Republican Dino Rossi had won, he said Democrat Christine Gregoire should do what's best for the state and concede.

This week, with the very real possibility that the nearly completed hand recount could undo Rossi's victory, Gregoire wants Rossi's pledge to accept the upcoming results as final and concede if he loses. She's pledged to concede if Rossi prevails.
 "Rossi should be joining me in calling for every legitimate vote to be counted. And he should join me in accepting the results once every valid vote is counted," Gregoire said yesterday. "I am shocked that his political party is suggesting that legitimate votes should not be counted in this election."

Rossi was unavailable for comment, but his spokeswoman, Mary Lane, said he would accept the results of the manual recount provided he wins.

"He has won two legitimate vote counts," Lane said. "For the election to be overturned on the third count would be unprecedented. At this point he would just have to reserve all his options."

The candidates and party leaders continued ratcheting up the rhetoric, speculation and rancor yesterday as King County election officials went into the final stages of the hand recount they expect to complete this week.

King County will be the last of Washington's 39 counties to report. Rossi's lead over Gregoire is now 49 votes. It was 50 Friday but the secretary of state revised that number. Democrats hope they can overcome that slim lead when the roughly 900,000 ballots in King County are re-tallied.

State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance called Gregoire's demands "unbelievably ironic and hypocritical" considering her refusal to concede after the first two counts, which Rossi won by 261 and 42 votes out of 2.8 million cast.

Amid the demands and counterdemands, Vance also said he wanted an apology from his Democratic counterpart Paul Berendt, who said in a news release: "There's no other way to say it: Dino Rossi is a thief."

Berendt and Gregoire contend that Rossi is trying to win the election by wrongfully barring legal votes from being counted.

Adding to the charged atmosphere, the state Supreme Court tomorrow will hear an appeal from King County and the state Democrats who believe a lower-court judge wrongfully blocked them from counting 735 disputed votes.

King County Councilman Larry Phillips brought the problem to election officials' attention when he discovered elections staff had rejected his absentee ballot. Phillips' vote and hundreds more were mistakenly disqualified because computer copies of their voters' signatures came up blank. Instead of setting aside the ballots for review against the actual voters registration card the staff disqualified them.

"If King County is allowed to bring in votes that were previously rejected, then this is not a recount, it's a whole new election," Vance said.

Legal experts have said that Washington's high court is not likely to exacerbate the partisan battles.

Seattle lawyer Jeffrey Grant, who is also an instructor at the University of Washington Law School, said the high court justices are more likely to give more thought and care to the integrity of the Supreme Court then who wins or loses a particular election.

"The court tends to take a very long view," Grant said. "As a group, the sitting justices are considered moderate. Chief Justice Gerry Alexander is considered to be moderate and cautious.

"And as a group they are very loyal to the institution they serve and that loyalty and duty transcends any personal political positions. We as lawyers may disagree with a particular decision but it's not because the court is pushing a partisan political agenda."

Although it's impossible to predict what the court will do, Grant said there are some clues.

"The court has already said once that they don't want to get into the details of the counting and the case that is coming back to them," Grant said. "The details are very specific and very compelling but the court has said, 'we've got rule in place and we are going to leave implementation and interpretation to those officials.' "

Gregoire said there would be little justification for barring the disputed votes.

"If they're not legitimate votes, it's some contorted argument about how the government made a mistake and we should live with the mistake," Gregoire said. "Government mistakes need to be corrected. And the purpose of the recount is precisely that: to correct mistakes.

Gregoire said mistakes were corrected in other counties. "And I have heard no objection whatsoever to any other county who found that they had made a mistake and corrected it. It was allowed to stand and not one word was said."

Republicans contend that the law is clear that the county canvassing board may not revisit its previous decisions as part of the recount. Doing so would leave the election process open-ended and open to corruption, they say.

And Rossi's spokeswoman said Gregoire is making an unfair comparison when she mentions what other counties have done. Of the hundreds of new votes that show up for both candidates throughout the manual recount, county canvassing boards, Lane said, had previously rejected only "a handful at best."

Gregoire does not support throwing out the entire election.

"This idea of a do-over ... that's just ludicrous," Gregoire said of suggestions that another election be held to determine who the state's governor will be.

She said the "do over" concept makes sense in golf "but it's only in practice, not when you are really counting and this really counts."

Neither Rossi nor the state Republicans back former Secretary of State Ralph Munro's suggestion that the second election might be the best resolution but they won't rule it out.

"Ralph Munro is a very wise man," Vance said. "And he sees where this thing is headed. It is headed to an ugly election contest procedure in court or perhaps on the floor of the House and Senate."

Vance said if things get "even uglier" a new election might be best. "I don't think we are at that point yet."

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