Judge Upholds Election of Washington Governor

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A Washington state superior court judge rules against a challenge to the election of Christine Gregoire as Governor of the state of Washington. Gregoire, a Democrat, was elected last fall by just 129 votes. Republicans, citing irregularities, challenged the result.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Eight months after the election, the dispute over who should be governor in the state of Washington is finally over. Democrat Christine Gregoire gets to keep the job. Gregoire's victory was very close, and Republicans had argued in court that she would have lost had it not been for hundreds of illegal ballots. But today a judge rejected that argument, and this evening the Republican candidate ended his effort to have last fall's election thrown out. NPR's Martin Kaste has the story from Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE reporting:

This has been a rough few months for the Republicans. Their candidate, Dino Rossi, was initially declared the winner last November. He would have been the first GOP governor in 20 years. But after two recounts, Democrat Christine Gregoire emerged with a 129-vote lead--that, out of a total of nearly three million votes cast. Once she was sworn in, the Republicans dug through the messy mechanics of the November 2nd vote, and what they found was not pretty: votes cast by felons, uncounted ballots and shoddy bookkeeping, especially in King County, home of Democratic-leaning Seattle. The Republicans' lawyer, Harry Korrell, said the errors were no accident.

Mr. HARRY KORRELL (Republican Lawyer): I think we can be forgiven for thinking that something was rotten in King County in this election. Errors such as these should have been random, and they were not.

KASTE: The Republicans say the mistakes favored Gregoire, and they asked the court to use statistical analysis to correct the results. Today in his ruling, Judge John Bridges said that was no way to overturn an election.

Judge JOHN BRIDGES: To do so within the context of the facts of this case would constitute the ultimate act of judicial egotism and judicial activism.

KASTE: While Bridges acknowledged the serious flaws in the state's election system, he rejected the Republicans' claim that the mistakes were intentional. The judge's unambiguous tone came as a relief to Governor Gregoire.

Governor CHRISTINE GREGOIRE (Democrat, Washington): It's an emotional day. It's an emotional moment. But as I say, I'm ready to move on. I want the state of Washington to be served by a full-time governor who is not being distracted by anything.

KASTE: Throughout this fight, Gregoire has had a strategy of acting as gubernatorial as possible. She pushed an aggressive agenda in the Legislature, rarely acknowledging the shadow over her legitimacy. Rossi, on the other hand, was always careful to frame his legal challenge as a matter of principle.

Mr. DINO ROSSI: This system needs to be cleaned up, so I'm the guy who drew the short straw who actually has to clean up the system here in the state of Washington.

KASTE: But after today's ruling, Rossi said he would not appeal, mainly because of what he sees as the unfavorable political makeup of the state Supreme Court. Rossi is widely expected to make another run for statewide office and may well have considered public opinion in his decision, too. Chris Sautter is a Democratic lawyer who specializes in election challenges. He says these disputes have become more politicized since the 2000 recount in Florida.

Mr. CHRIS SAUTTER (Democratic Lawyer): They have become a part of what Dick Morris referred to as the permanent campaign. Now you don't just have lawyers; you also have strategists and spin doctors and fund-raisers. Recounts are in many ways just like campaigns now.

KASTE: Indeed, a recent poll by the firm Strategic Vision suggests that the public was not in the mood to see a sitting governor evicted from office. Although 57 percent of respondents said they believed Dino Rossi was the real winner, only 35 percent liked the idea of rerunning the election, and 61 percent say the whole dispute has made them less confident in the electoral system. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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