Republicans Challenge Washington Governor in Court
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Republicans go to court today in Washington state, trying to annul the governor's election there. Republicans say their candidate was cheated out a a win last year because of illegal votes and bad bookkeeping. NPR's Martin Kaste reports.
MARTIN KASTE reporting:
Dino Rossi, a dapper millionaire real estate salesman, was declared the winner of last year's governor's race, twice. But after the second recount, done by hand, he ended up losing by 129 votes. Now five months later, he still holds court in what amounts to a stripped-down campaign headquarters staffed by a handful of volunteers.
Mr. DINO ROSSI (Gubernatorial Candidate): This isn't exactly what I signed up for. I wasn't planning on running for two years.
KASTE: He says at first he wasn't inclined to challenge the election result. But reports of widespread irregularities changed his mind.
Mr. ROSSI: The information just kept cascading in every day, you know. Felons had voted, dead people that had voted. Then we found out there were more votes that were counted in King County than the number of people who had showed up to vote. We thought just the simple standard that every vote should have a voter wasn't too high of a standard to ask for.
KASTE: King County, which includes Democratic-leaning Seattle, has admitted that there were discrepancies during the November 2nd vote. Some ballots were misplaced. Other provisional ballots were counted without being properly checked. But Republicans are especially upset over votes cast by felons. The state Constitution bars felons from voting unless they've paid fines and made restitution ordered by the courts that convicted them, and then they can vote only if they get a special certificate restoring their civil rights. All of this makes it hard to pin down exactly which felons voted illegally or how their votes affected last year's election, but Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance has no doubt.
Mr. CHRIS VANCE (Republican Party Chairman, Washington State): Felons tend to, by wide margins, vote for Democrats.
KASTE: Vance and the Republicans want the court to use statistical analysis to predict which candidate the felons voted for. In a nutshell, the court would assume the felons' votes followed the larger voting patterns in their communities. Using this method, they say it's clear that the felon vote favored the Democrat, current Governor Christine Gregoire.
Predictably, the Democrats' state party chairman, Paul Berendt, says the method is unfair.
Mr. PAUL BERENDT (Democratic Party Chairman, Washington State): We believe that the formula the Republicans put before the court is bogus, that it's based on guessing how people voted, which is something they just can't do. People are not statistics.
KASTE: Nevertheless, just in case the judge accepts the Republicans' method of using statistical analysis to subtract illegal votes, the Democrats have also been out in the county courthouses, compiling their own list of felons and other illegal voters in parts of the state that favor the Republicans. They say using the Republicans' statistical analysis model, Gregoire would still win, though her margin would be whittled down to a mere 67 votes.
University of Washington law Professor Jeffrey Grant says as both parties have geared up for this trial, they've trashed the competence of Washington state's electoral system, something he says makes things seem worse than they really are.
Professor JEFFREY GRANT (University of Washington): If you added up all the votes that both Democrats and Republicans are complaining about, it's probably less than 5,000. Almost 2.9 million votes were cast. It's a very small number. The problem, of course, is that, you know, we've got a 129-vote squeaker. Every mistakenly recounted ballot, or uncounted ballot, has become gigantically important.
KASTE: If the Republicans win this case and the decision is upheld by the state Supreme Court, Governor Gregoire would be forced to vacate the office and Washington voters will find themselves casting ballots one more time this November in a rerun of the 2004 governor's race.
Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.