April 27, 2005


The Latest Returns: How we botched the gubernatorial election of 2004, and why there's no end in sight. (Rick Anderson, 4/27/05, Seattle Weekly)

As you might recall, Rossi initially won the 2004 gubernatorial election by 261 votes, a margin requiring a recount. That's when the fun began. A combination machine and hand recount gave him a narrower, 42-vote win but set off an automatic full and final hand recount. Gregoire wound up ahead by 10 votes. The state Supreme Court then ordered 735 previously rejected King County absentee ballots be counted. When 556 ballots were eventually verified for inclusion in the manual recount, Gregoire wound up with a 129-vote margin statewide. She quickly took office and changed the locks, hanging out the No Realtors sign.

All the reviews of the process in King County and the statewide lawsuit by Republicans could run the year. Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges will hear arguments at a hearing next Monday, May 2, in Wenatchee, where the Republicans filed their suit, leading up to perhaps a two-week trial slated to begin May 23, with the outcome almost certain to be appealed to the state Supreme Court. The GOP wants the courts to effectively evict Gregoire from the Olympia manse and make her stand for re-election in her first year. State GOP Chair Vance says a new vote is warranted on the basis of so many King County ballots lost and found, uncounted and miscounted, and illegally cast by lawbreakers and the dearly departed. Using what's called a "proportional deduction" method (or "guesswork," in the Democrats' lexicon), the party argues that a certain number of the provably illegal votes cast for governor in 2004 should be deducted from each candidate according to the proportion of votes each one carried in the given precincts. The result, theoretically, would demonstrate that it's impossible to prove a clear winner was picked by 2.8 million voters. The GOP has not outright alleged intentional election fraud. But it is convinced that error and incompetence were so prevalent, especially in King County, that a runoff is the only fair resolution.

Thing is, the 2004 King County election was run much like elections past. In fact, up until Nov. 2, the 2004 election system was in better shape than in 2002, if you accept Ron Sims' analysis. After a series of human errors and technical glitches caused mailing delays and left ballots uncounted in 2002, Sims formed a Citizens' Election Oversight Committee in 2003 and brought Logan aboard. In its impressively detailed, 158-page April 2004 report, the committee reviewed a few special elections and found they were "now much more professionally and reliably conducted" and that "absentee ballot processing and tabulating has also improved dramatically." It saw promise of perfection in Logan, whose fixes and advances included a new electronic election management and voter registration system, bilingual ballots, and staff reorganization. The department was already better at managing its absentee mailing system and voter rolls (4,305 dead voters were purged in 2004, along with 605 felons). The potential for widespread failure had been reduced.

Unfortunately, while all that might have improved ballot handling and counting, systemic weakness remained either unfixed or undiscovered. The convergence of extraordinary events in November 2004, Logan now concedes, "exposed the gaps in our systems and limits on our capacity." Besides the closest gubernatorial vote in state history and the rise in accounting fallibility as the historic recounts progressed, King County endured a record voter turnout and was swamped by a bureaucratic nightmare: a record number of county absentee (646,000) and provisional (31,000) ballots issued, all of which had to be counted manually. In the election run-up, more than 138,000 new county voter registrations had to be handled, 40 percent more than in the 2000 election.

At the polls, 540 optical-scanning county computers, which tally hand-marked ballots, got their biggest workout ever, not only by the volume of ballots processed but by thousands of voters who flunked the bubble test. Most people managed to simply fill in the selection circle next to their preferred candidate, as required. But at least 1,600 original King County poll and absentee ballots had to be scrutinized, to determine "voter intent," by two review boards because markings on them were unclear. In the assorted counts, almost 5,000 ballots that were physically distorted or damaged had to be duplicated for recounting, while 55,000 other ballots had to be enhanced so a machine could read them. Rather than coloring inside the bubble lines, quirky voters wrote in the names of candidates already on the ballot, circled the name of their candidate, circled the candidate's party, checked the circles, circled the circles, and even stabbed the circles with pens or knives—in the manner of the old punch-card voting system. Some voters crossed out opponents, leaving the likely candidate uncircled. Others wrote in personal comments, political slogans, and assigned votes to Mickey Mouse and other unannounced candidates—perhaps, understandably, because they were sometimes faced with choosing the lesser liar on the ballot. "We had some very creative voters," Logan says dryly. A number of others asked that their ballots be set aside and counted by hand because they worried the county's AccuVote scanning computers might electronically alter their choices.

To a degree, all those problems show up at every election. But with more voters lured out by a divisive presidential-year election that also produced the hairbreadth gubernatorial vote, foul-ups happened on steroids in 2004. The recounts compounded the error factor. The final tally, handing Gregoire her meager victory, was done all by hand, the least reliable method of tabulating large numbers of votes. The scrutiny brought on by the recounts exposed other failures, including lack of training for part-time (mostly one- or two-day) poll workers. In a vote this close, all it takes for a major snafu is one poll worker or county elections employee overlooking a cache of votes—which, in fact, happened more than a few times. Even without recounts, the record vote likely would have caused systemic glitches. But, like in the past, they would have been at least stage-managed and dealt with by more promised fixes.

In an election as close as this one, and even the presidential in 2000, isn't it fair to say that the voters are fine with either?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 27, 2005 11:44 PM


No. It's fair to say that this election was stolen, and should be re-run in a year.

I get your point that 200 votes either way makes it "impossible" to determine the winner in a 2.8M voter pool.

So what? It is in conservative's interests to use these situations as showcases for democratic vote fraud, which, in Bush's case, cost him some 'legitimacy' in the eyes of people who don't understand the electoral college.

The absentee & provisional voting laws make a mockery of our electoral system. We should go to two forms of ID with proper address, and some finger ink until our cities graduate beyond "Mugabe" tactics.

Posted by: BB at April 28, 2005 12:08 AM

"How we botched the gubernatorial election of 2004"

Whaddyamean "we", white man? Or are you speaking as a good little progressive open-minded tolerant Seattlite? Some of us have been concerned about the sloppy elections and a tolerance for corruption and incompetence long before this happened, only to be called names and have our efforts blocked by those who stood to benefit from the status quo.

As for "fine with either"ૼ Where do you set the line, and what do you think should be done when it is crossed? If there's no line, and no consequences for crossing it, then what's the point of even having elections? It's obvious that the law has not been followed here, and the punishment should be that the supposed winner has to prove that they are really acceptable to the people, not to reward the party/candidate whose cheating left it ahead at the magic moment. If anything, losing the governorship will teach the complaisant Dems to do a better job of cheating next time.

And the revote this fall will show that the two candidates were not equal when our present Governor Pro Tem has her upcoming status of "ex-Governor" confirmed.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 28, 2005 12:12 AM

There is no point. When they're this close a coin flip should suffice. Otherwise we make votes into fetishes.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 12:15 AM

you might feel differently if you had her in NH united with a democrat majority in both houses. She does agree with you on gas taxes though. Slightly off topic, the most interesting thing about the recently concluded legislative session was the democrats choice of revising a statewide voter initiative that requires a supermajority to create new taxes. The legislature voted to return to a simple majority thus overruling the expressed will of the people. They then raised taxes by 12% including a very unpopular 33% increase in gas taxes. The next few elections should be quite interesting.

Posted by: Pat H at April 28, 2005 12:42 AM

> When they're this close a coin flip should suffice. Otherwise we make votes into fetishes.

Barf. It's all well and good to not make voting, per se, into a fetish--but given that voting is after all how we decide who will govern us, I will make no apologies about demanding a fair and honest count of the votes, using the rules in place at the time the election was held.

Posted by: at April 28, 2005 12:50 AM

And a fair count is when we win?

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 12:54 AM

Trouble is, that kind of thinking encourages large, urban, heavily Dem counties such as King County to be as sloppy as possible. The sloppier they are, the more likely their candidate will win the election. Obviously, this isn't the sort of thing we want to encourage

Fortunately, OJ didn't write Washington State law. We've got a system in place for this sort of thing, and it's happening. We'll have a new election in November and Rossi will win by a landslide.

Posted by: Timothy at April 28, 2005 1:31 AM

OJ's exactly right. Voting is how we determine these things, but voting is entirely incapable of determining margins of a couple of hundred votes. This is like trying to measure thousandths with a ruler marked in sixteenths. Go get another ruler, if you must, but it doesn't make much sense to get mad at the old one.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 28, 2005 7:51 AM


Wanna bet?

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 8:50 AM

A grievance can pay more dividends than a single victory.

Posted by: curt at April 28, 2005 9:12 AM

Let me start by noting a serious factual error in the piece: Washington law does not require a hand recount as Anderson implies. In fact, the law discourages it by requiring the challenger to pay -- in advance -- or the hand recount. (They get their money back if they win the recount.)

As for the closeness of the election, Anderson and OJ are simply wrong. If it were possible to magically elimininate all the illegal votes, Rossi would have a net gain of thousands of votes, in my estimate. (If you are curious about that number, see my posts on the subject, either at my own site or at Sound Politics.)

In any case, it is entirely possible to count votes accurately and some Washington counties did just that in this last election.

Posted by: Jim Miller at April 28, 2005 9:12 AM

OJ- What do you have in mind?

Posted by: Timothy at April 28, 2005 10:27 AM

Timothy: What oj has in mind is that you just accept that the election was stolen, bend over, and say "Thank you Governor, may I have another?"

Posted by: b at April 28, 2005 11:38 AM

Maybe they will count the military ballots in the rerun that they previously disqualified as late.

The whole thing stinks and needs to be rerun. Allow crap like this to pass and voter turnout will diminish further ... and not just in WA.

Posted by: at April 28, 2005 11:39 AM

I'll bet you the courts don't order a new election.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 11:43 AM

Eliminate enough votes and Goldwater beats LBJ.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 11:46 AM

It can't diminish far enough.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 11:56 AM

The fetish that needs to be eliminated is believing anyone too dumb to correctly mark a paper ballot should have their 'vote' counted.

Posted by: Chris B at April 28, 2005 12:12 PM

Republicans have to win convincingly to win at all. It's going to continue to be true regardless of what happens in Washington State.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 28, 2005 12:12 PM

David: it'll be like the filibuster--"Sure, Bush won 51% of the vote, but that's less than the 60% necessary, so John Kerry is the President."

Posted by: b at April 28, 2005 12:51 PM

Well, he won with 49% the first time.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 12:56 PM

We both know no votes matter except those of the electors. Maybe the Dems will try to filibuster the Electoral College next time?

Posted by: b at April 28, 2005 1:02 PM

Barbara Boxer and Stephanie Tubbs-Jones tried that this time.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 28, 2005 1:24 PM

OJ - Come on, you know I said "illegal votes". For instance, the Republicans found, in a search that was far from exhaustive, that almost 1,000 felons had voted illegally. Given the fact that they are felons and mostly live in King County, it is reasonable to guess that they voted almost 3-1 for Gregoire.

And we know that hundreds of provisional votes were counted without checking in King County. Given the proportion that were rejected -- without much checking -- it is likely that those votes, by themselves, also were enough to give Gregoire her edge.

Let me repeat: On the evidence currently available, there is simply no question that Rossi won the election by hundreds of votes, and probably thousands. That's not something to be settled by a coin flip.

Posted by: Jim Miller at April 28, 2005 2:52 PM

"Republicans found"

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 2:56 PM

"Republicans found" - and the Seattle Times, which is not a Republican newspaper, confirmed with an independent check. They did not agree on all the names, but they did agree on most. Oh, and Pierce County just south of King County and Seattle just found another batch of felons who voted.

(The Seattle Times did endorse Rossi in the last election, but I have it on good authority that the decision was not made by the staff of the newspaper.)

Posted by: Jim Miller at April 28, 2005 4:28 PM

What are you willing to wager? I'm not 100% that the WA Supreme Court will overturn the election, but I'm approaching 90% that the lower court will do so. I'd call Rossi's chances of getting the whole thing tossed out in the end to be better than even.

Posted by: Timothy at April 28, 2005 4:39 PM

My black velvet painting of Margaret Thatcher riding a tiger?

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 5:33 PM

oh, I couldn't bear to take away something that precious... and if you'll excuse me, I need to go bleach my brain.

Posted by: Timothy at April 28, 2005 6:26 PM