Democrats in the state of Washington will decide today whether to finance a recount in the protracted race to choose the next governor. If candidate Christine Gregoire and state party leaders decide to go forward, current election law affords them the options of paying either for a statewide recount or for recounts of select counties.
The select recount option would smell an awful lot like a certain candidate's attempt to shake more dangling chads out of Democrat-leaning counties in the Hurricane State in the last presidential go-round, and Republicans are crying foul. John Fund wrote an article for OpinionJournal.com this week which charged that Democrats are trying to steal the election. "Theft" might be a bit strong but the Democrats' approach does seem to be, Keep counting until we win.
Secretary of State Sam Reed certified Dino Rossi the winner Tuesday -- the first Republican governor since John Spellman in 1980. But with a margin of only 42 votes, recounts and lawsuits could drag this contest well into the New Year. The Seattle Times this week ran an article hopefully titled "A governor by Christmas?" How about by February?
With the party's coffers depleted and then some, the bitter-enders are shamelessly passing the hat to fund the second recount. Wannabe 2008 presidential nominee John Kerry has kicked in $200,000 from his $45 million war chest. Established figures in the state party, such as departing Governor Gary Locke, are counseling that the Gregoire and company had better pay for a statewide hand recount.
The problem with the statewide-recount option is that the law of perverse incentives would apply.
In the back-and-forth leading up to the first result, Democrats aggressively tracked down voters who cast "provisional ballots" -- that is, ballots cast by people who were not on the rolls but who (theoretically) should have been. The party's tireless efforts at getting signed affidavits to keep the provisional votes in the queue narrowed the first count to 261 votes.
On the second count, Democrat-heavy King County made use of controversial enhanced ballots. These ballots could not be read by the machines because they were incorrectly filled out but, according to poll workers, the intention was clear enough (e.g., a choice was circled rather than blacked in). They corrected this problem by filling out the ballots and feeding them into the counting machines.
Arguably, the Democrats have acted within the scope of election law -- though the enhanced ballots are iffy. But because these questionable voter forms brought the election below the 150 vote margin to allow a hand recount of some or all ballots, many Republicans believe that another count will be an invitation to creative counting.
As one local wag explained, "With a 42-vote gap, he who cheats the most wins. Find a way to disappear the right stack of ballots or enhance a few more votes and -- presto! -- this election goes to the extra-special Supreme Court round."
I think it safe to say Christine Gregoire will not be the next governor of Washington state. But her refusal to concede brings to mind some of the uglier moments in recent electoral history.
We saw this refusal to concede when Al Gore dragged the country through the protracted election of 200, constantly changing his recount strategy with one objective in mind: shake enough votes out of Florida to grab the White House.
We saw it again on election night/morning 2004, as John Edwards defiantly took the stage and promised not to give up until every last Ohio vote was tallied, even though John Kerry was about 100,000 votes in the hole. Reports say that Edwards privately urged the senator from Massachusetts to try to turn the state into another Florida.
And, of course, residents of Washington state now have seen the bitter-enders go to work on their electoral process. Christian Gregoire may wrap her stubbornness in a populist package ("let every vote be counted") but it's really as firm an endorsement of liberal aristocratic privilege as one is likely to see in modern egalitarian democracy. She hasn't conceded so far because she can not bring herself to believe that Washingtonians might prefer a Republican.
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