Wash. governors race margin razor-thin

SEATTLE — It’s already one for the record books: the Washington state governor’s race is the closest in the history of the United States. The battle over a second recount is one front of the national struggle to have every voted counted fairly.

Following the November election, Republican Dino Rossi was declared the winner by less than 300 votes out of nearly 3 million. Under state law, a margin this close required an automatic machine recount. As a result of the recount, Rossi’s margin shrunk to 42 votes.

The state Democratic Party and its gubernatorial candidate, Christine Gregoire, then raised over $750,000 to pay for a second, hand recount in all counties. As of Dec. 14, Rossi had gained another 190 votes and Gregoire 144, increasing Rossi’s lead.

In the latest development, after the chair of the King County Council discovered that his own valid vote had been disqualified, the county found a total of 561 improperly disqualified ballots. Since Gregoire was leading by 60 percent in the county, this bodes well for her campaign. However, state Republican Chair Chris Vance is objecting at the top of his lungs, alleging fraud and vowing more court challenges.

The Democratic Party had already gone directly to the state Supreme Court to ask that all ballots, especially absentee and provisional ballots, be treated the same in the hand recount. Now, each county election board determines which votes are valid. As a result some counties — including the largest, King County — have provisional ballots rejected at a much higher rate than other counties.

Rossi, a former state legislator, worked hard during the general election to distance himself from his very conservative record on issues that in Washington are unpopular, such as abortion rights. He positioned himself as an agent for change in a state that hasn’t had a Republican governor since 1980. Gregoire, the former state attorney general, ran on her record successfully negotiating a massive settlement from the tobacco companies and promising to “blow past the bureaucracy” to get things done.

Neither seriously addressed the state’s budget crisis, the looming sharp cuts to the state’s Basic Health Plan, the corporate giveaways to Boeing engineered by Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, or many other burning issues facing the state’s working people.

In Washington, politics change radically from county to county. Kerry won the state, based on large victories in only 10 of 39 counties. Those 10 include the most populous, mainly in western Washington. Bush carried the other 29 counties, mainly on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. The governor’s race reflects a similar split, though it appears that Rossi was able to convince more swing voters than did Bush.

Secretary of State Sam Reed has said the final results will be certified by Dec. 23, barring court challenges. But if the results change due to the recount, it may be many months before the race is ultimately settled.

The author can be reached at marcbrodine@comcast.net.