Campaign Crawlers

Governor by Litigation

The only rule in the Washington state recount is that anyone can change the rules.

By 12.16.04

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SEATTLE -- The last four years of American politics seem to defy explanation; someone wants to recount an election that was supposedly rigged by XYZ political party, so-and-so is suing what's-his-face, and someone may or may not have stolen funds from somewhere. The Washington state gubernatorial election, which has been dragged through the mud by lawsuits and recount demands, is starting to take a definite turn, and suddenly explanation seems obvious. More than a political process, this state election resembles the mythical game of Calvinball -- made famous by the fact that the only rule is that the players can change the rules during the game.

The impetus behind this revelation is the now trendy sense of last-stand, do whatever it takes politics on both Republican and Democratic sides of the fence. Each party feels that it is now entitled to the governor's seat, one man (Dino Rossi, R) because he won the election by an impossibly slim margin, and one woman (Chris Gregoire, D), because she knows that if she complains enough she'll get her way.

Chris (who for this story shall be referred to as "Christine," which was her name until she began her election campaign) Gregoire made headlines when as the State Attorney General she started the notorious tobacco industry lawsuit flap and "brought the tobacco industry to its knees," or so clichéd the reporters covering the lawsuits in the 1990s. Gregoire is still riding high on her victory, despite an office that is fraught with mismanagement, missed deadlines, and staff resignations.

She did get votes. Some voted because they liked her record as a legal tigress, some because they firmly align with the Democratic Party, but in a state where 1,510,201 people voted for John Kerry why did only 1,372,442 vote for Christine Gregoire? Where did the 137,759 other votes go? Not to Libertarian Ruth Bennett, who scored only 63,416, certainly not all to Rossi. After a mandatory recount revealed Rossi as the winner for the second time (this time by a margin of only 42 votes), Christine then determined that someone must be hiding those votes that would make her governor. She demanded a second recount, this time by hand, which is still slogging along.

She followed up with a lawsuit, which would enable the several thousand votes that were disqualified for a variety of reasons to be retabulated. Her request was unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court on December 13. Rossi supporters rejoiced. Gregoire cheerleaders shook their heads. And then King County Councilman Larry Phillips had his big break and thrust himself into the Seattle spotlight as a new Democrat hero.

DURING THE ELECTION Phillips voted by absentee ballot because he was a busy bee at the time in Ohio helping the John Kerry campaign. Defeated in Ohio, but not in spirit, Phillips decided to look at the names on the list of rejected votes in Washington state and was surprised to see his own name staring back at him. His signature, like many others, was not on file in the computer's database.

"I was under the absolute impression [that] not only I voted, but followed the instructions correctly," said Phillips to the Seattle Times. "If it can happen to the King County Council chairman, it can happen to anyone else."

Five hundred and seventy-three discoveries later, Gregoire is now embroiled in yet another legal battle, this time to allow those 573 King County signatures to be evaluated and then counted in the governor's race. Just to be sure no one was left out, the Seattle Times published the entire list of rejected voters online.

Upon hearing about the lawsuit, Washington State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance said, "It's either gross incompetence or vote fraud." He says he expects King County to "find" more votes until they have enough to win the election.

Shortly after Vance's prediction, 22 more King County ballots were found sitting innocently in the voting machines, uncounted. The King County Canvassing Board voted in favor of retabulating the 573 votes, and the GOP has now decided to follow Gregoire's lead and start suing. King County (referred to by some as "Ukraine County") voting patterns suggest that the 573 votes could give Gregoire more than enough lead to pluck the governor's seat from Rossi.

In the meantime, Rossi quietly amassed 88 more votes for himself in the hand recount and gained ground in 17 counties while Christine has gained ground in 6 counties. Were the 573 extra ballots to be ignored, Rossi would probably have secured victory for the third time.

WHY DID GREGOIRE choose litigation over gracefully conceding? Why do Democratic candidates these days feel the need to prolong already painful elections? It certainly is more satisfying than admitting defeat, and she cannot let down her reputation as a fighter. She will battle with Rossi until she either forces her way through or fails in a heroic flaming Democratic Alamo. After resigning her seat as Attorney General she has no where to go (Rob McKenna -- slim, bespectacled, Republican -- slipped comfortably in her place as the new State Attorney General).

The most humiliating part of this debacle is that Gregoire, the former State Attorney General and hallowed tobacco company slayer, was shut down by the Supreme Court on December 13, and the only reason her 573 votes are being counted is that the King County Canvassing Board is 2 - 1 Democrat. Even if she does win this election, she will lose the respect of her constituents.

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About the Author

Heather Roscoe writes from Washington state.