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Election challenge blocked
Push to delay certification fails in Senate


Senate Democrats on Monday defeated the first of several Republican moves planned to delay or invalidate Democrat Christine Gregoire's 129-vote victory over Republican Dino Rossi in Washington's legally contested governor's race. 
Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Bill Finkbeiner said legislators should give courts time to sort out accusations of voting-system flaws, while Democrats said it's time to move on and deal with court rulings later if they come up and toss Gregoire out of office.

"Not only do we have a winner. We have a duty to uphold the Constitution and laws," Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said in a floor speech, urging lawmakers to let the new governor get busy. "We don't have a compelling reason to delay."

Acting to block acceptance of the results for two weeks, as the Republicans had asked, would be "making it up as we go," Brown said.

The dust-up Monday, the Legislature's first day in session, was just the first of what promises to be many Republican efforts to undo Gregoire's victory. The battle moves today to the Senate's joint session with the House, where Democrats enjoy an even bigger majority.

Rossi's best option appears to be his court case, which is pending in Chelan County Superior Court. It asks for a new election on grounds that vote handling errors in King County have left voters uncertain who really won.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who sided with Republicans on the procedural votes Monday, said he thinks the GOP has a strong case. "All my chips I'm all in with Rossi," he said. "I think public opinion is on his side."

Brown, who held the rest of her caucus together on the issue, said she doesn't expect the dispute to overshadow the session ahead. She also discounted Sheldon, calling him "a DINO, a Democrat in Name Only."

The Republicans open another front today in their public-relations battle. Their activists plan a rally of anywhere from 500 up to a few thousand people near the Capitol's Tivoli Fountain at 10:30 this morning, Thurston County GOP Chairman Steve Matthews said.

State Republican Chairman Chris Vance is among the speakers lined up, along with former gubernatorial candidate John Carlson and others.

Matthews called it a revote rally, not a Rossi rally though Republicans did not embrace the revote idea until after a third count of ballots last month erased Rossi's lead and gave the win to Gregoire.

Democrats plan to rally in support of Gregoire at the same time near the totem pole northeast of the Capitol. State Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt predicted 400 to 500 people for what he described as a welcome to the new governor-elect and support for her inauguration.

Another group calling itself ReVoteWa.com, has sponsored a petition campaign via the Internet. Organizer Sharon Gilpin, who lives on Bainbridge Island and earlier advised the Rossi transition team as a consultant, said she hopes to have more than 200,000 signatures by today.

Gilpin plans to give legislative leaders copies of the petition-signers' names and cities. "It's meant as political pressure and the will of a lot of people for the Legislature to shed some partisanship and do revoting," she said.

"The voters really have lost faith," Gilpin said, adding that she got involved because "this election offends my sense of democracy."

In the past week, the GOP has made a big deal out of the disparity between the number of votes cast in the election and the number of names of voters that elections officials particularly in King County have been able to provide.

Election officials say it's normal not to have a perfect match, because some voters participate using federal write-in ballots and other voters are enrolled in an address confidentiality program that protects their identities.

King County officials have downplayed the concerns, but they have admitted other problems. For instance, 348 provisional ballots cast by voters showing up at wrong precincts Nov. 2 were fed directly into vote-counting machines before being validated.

State GOP Chairman Vance pointed to other problems Monday. He said King County's claim of a disparity of 1,217 names and votes comparable to the county's numbers in 2000 is itself in error. The actual number is closer to twice that, Vance said.

Activists say the public at large is getting "steamed," to use the words of Debbie Swecker, who led Rossi's campaign in Thurston County and wants a new election.

"I think if there's a revote, I think definitely Dino will be put in and he'll have a mandate," said Swecker, whose husband is Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester. "At this point, so many people are mad and wanting to be part of cleaning up this mess, it's actually helping us quite a bit. People are pretty steamed about this. A lot of them are people who voted for Gregoire."

Despite the commotion, lawmakers such as House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, say they don't expect a backlash if they don't call for an election.

"I don't really think so because I think everyone has county auditors in their district who have certified the election," Kessler said. "It's been certified by Republican and Democratic auditors around the state and the secretary of state."

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