Tuesday :: Dec 21, 2004

Washington Recount Wrapping Up

by CA Pol Junkie

The Washington governors' race is shaping up to be just what Florida 2000 should have been: democratic with a small "d". Sure, the Republicans are doing their best to make sure certain undesirable (Democratic with a big "D") votes aren't counted, but Washington State and its Republican Secretary of State should be commended for their commitment to process in deciding this very close election. Wednesday is likely the big day when it all gets decided, so here is a recap of where we are now.

UPDATE: Each party has received data disks from the King County recount. The Democratic Party is claiming that Christine Gregoire has won by 8 votes. This is without the 700+ ballots at issue in front of the State Supreme Court this morning.

UPDATE 2: The Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Democrats and King County. The 700+ votes will be counted.

UPDATE 3: King County's unofficial returns without the 700+ votes give Gregoire a lead of 10 votes over Rossi. The complete certified results will be announced Thursday at 3 PM.

The Machine Counts
After the initial canvass of votes, Republican Dino Rossi led Democrat Christine Gregoire by 261 votes out of 2.8 million cast, or 0.01%. After the automatic machine recount of votes, Republican Dino Rossi led Democrat Christine Gregoire by only 42 votes out of 2.8 million cast, for a margin of 0.0015%. So, the Democrats led a heroic charge to raise $750,000 for a deposit on a hand recount. This became our chance to show everyone what should have happened in Florida: the winner is only decided after every vote has been counted.

The Hand Recount
Republicans howled at the idea of questioning the omniscience of the vote counting machines, but State law said that a hand recount would be the ultimate arbiter of who had the most votes. As the small GOP leaning counties came in, Rossi's lead grew, but when all but King County (Seattle) reported, Rossi had gained 569 votes to Gregoire's 562, leaving him just 49 votes ahead.

The 38 counties reporting favored Rossi by a combined 8%. King County is Gregoire's stronghold, giving her an 18% margin over Rossi. Based on the rest of the state, hundreds of previously uncounted votes were expected out of King, but the winner of the race would be determined by how many votes there were and how heavily they broke for Gregoire. We learned today that, in addition to the standard hand recount adjustments from the machine count, there are 1,627 ballots with various problems like the wrong color ink, check marks or X's instead of filled-in ovals, etc. Alot of those won't be counted in the end, but it is good news for Gregoire that there are alot more ballots out there which have yet to be counted.

The Court Fight
What would a recount be without a court fight? It started with the Democrats asking the State Supreme Court to compel every county to check all the ballots they have disqualified, like non-matching signatures on absentee ballots. The Republicans argued that the counties have discretion to fix errors on their own, citing several cases where counties were doing just that, including King County. The Court rejected the Democrats' bid.

So, various counties were finding and fixing problems on their own. This included 224 ballots in Snohomish County, 1 ballot in Chelan County, 52 ballots in Grant County, plus error fixes in Whatcom, Kittitas, and Pierce Counties. Those counties added in their newly canvasses ballots with little fanfare.

Then King County happened to find over 700 ballots which hadn't been counted. They were absentee ballots which had been received by the county, rejected, and locked in a cage in a warehouse. It turned out they were rejected because the voters' signatures hadn't been scanned into the county elections board's computer system. Procedure in these cases is to get the voter registration form and manually check the signature using that. However, the staff members verifying the signatures had just rejected the ballots instead. The County recognized its error during the recount and started validating signatures.

Predictably, the Republican Party suddenly lept into the fray, saying the ballots were fishy (never mind they were in sealed envelopes signed by the voters and locked up) and it was too late to count them - the recount was only for ballots already counted! Never mind that several other counties (which by sheer coincidence were not heavily Democratic) had already fixed errors in the recount. Never mind that the GOP argued to the State Supreme Court that King County taking care of its staff error was an example of the system working, now it was too late! Those ballots legally cast by hundreds of voters were now illegal to count!

The Republican Secretary of State, to his credit, has backed King County and other counties in giving them the discretion to fix their own errors. In fact, the SoS even has a nifty little Manual Recount FAQ page discussing the distinction between canvassing (qualifying ballots) and counting.

Q: In a manual recount, will the counties revisit prior canvassing decisions?

As a general matter, counties will not revisit prior canvassing decisions in the manual recount.

The statutes require a “recount,” not a “recanvass” of the election.

Canvassing boards have made literally thousands of decisions already regarding signature verification and voter intent on ballots. These decisions were made in the original count and in the machine recount.

These prior decisions of the canvassing boards will be the basis for the manual recount.

But then it continues...

Two exceptions exist to this general rule.

First, if a ballot is discovered in the hand recount that presents issues such as voter intent not previously resolved, that ballot will be “canvassed” to determine voter intent under the same standards and process used in the original count and machine recount.

Second, any canvassing board at any time in the original count, machine recount, or manual recount may, upon finding that a discrepancy or inconsistency exists, direct a recanvass of any necessary portion of the ballots.

So, the GOP is attacking its own stance in front of the Supreme Court giving counties discretion to fix errors, and its new opinion is contrary to the GOP Secretary of State. They sound a bit desperate, yes?

The drama plays out Wednesday morning at 9:30, when the parties each have 30 minutes to argue their case to the Court (and probably on C-Span). If the Court proves as measured and sane as the State of Washington has been through this whole drama, they will point out that King County does indeed have discretion under State law to fix errors, and it only makes sense to do so when trying to get an accurate count of the legal votes. Hopefully, King County will give Gregoire enough of a margin to win without the 700+ uncounted absentee ballots, but those voters deserve to have their ballots counted no matter how that would affect the final result.

CA Pol Junkie :: 10:40 PM :: Comments (12) :: Digg It!