The trouble began when it became clear the race was so close it wouldn't be settled by the ballots counted on election night. Washington allows absentee ballots--used by 70% of the voters this year--to be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
That set off a legal fracas over the 929 people in heavily Democratic King County whose provisional ballots hadn't been counted because of mismatched or missing signatures. Democrats demanded the names and addresses of those voters so they could contact them and correct the errors. County officials responded that in requiring that all 50 states offer provisional ballots Congress had stipulated that such votes remain private. Republican lawyers argued that having partisans scavenge for votes would increase the potential for fraud.
But Superior Court Judge Dean Lum said such arguments weren't as important as the need to make sure every vote counted--an echo of Florida. [emphasis added]A full 10 days after the election, while absentee votes were still being counted, he ordered election officials to give the names and addresses of the provisional voters to the Democratic Party. Judge Lum did express regret that the judiciary was being "whipsawed in the middle" of a bitter partisan dispute and asked to "micromanage an election." But then he proceeded to do precisely that by allowing partisan workers the opportunity to mine flawed ballots after the election, for the first time in the 20 years that Washington has used provisional ballots.
Democrats spent the next three days knocking on doors and speed-dialing voters. Ryan Bianchi, communications assistant for Ms. Gregoire, made it clear how blatantly partisan the approach was. Democratic volunteers asked if voters had cast ballots for Ms. Gregoire. "If they say no, we just tell them to have a nice day," he told the Seattle Times. Only if they say yes, did the Democrats ask if they want to make their ballot valid. Republicans played catch-up by belatedly using their own phone banks to call up voters and identify ballots that might fall their way if made valid. In the end Democrats turned in some 600 written oaths from provisional voters and Republicans about 200.
Those votes helped narrow Mr. Rossi's eventual lead to 261 votes as the late absentee votes were finally counted and the results certified on Nov. 17. Then the state began a mandatory machine recount. Once again, King County was the center of controversy. More than 700 previously uncounted ballots were added to the county's total after election officials "enhanced" them to better divine voter intent. When optical scan machines didn't accept ballots, workers would fill in ovals on ballots or create duplicate ballots if they felt the voter had meant to register a choice. Hanging chads, meet empty ovals. Through this process, Ms. Gregoire gained 245 votes in King County, dwarfing the shifts to either candidate in any other county.
Such creative counting brought Mr. Rossi's lead down to 42 votes, a critical threshold to justify further recounts and litigation. Former governor Booth Gardner, a Democrat, told a press conference last week that he thought Ms. Gregoire should concede if the final recount margin had been 100 votes or more. But at 42 votes he now feels a hand recount is appropriate.
Seems the GOP has dropped the ball on this one. Damned shame as Washington is only a bluish state and as Ed Rendell has proved having a friendly governor can be a big advantage.