A federal judge Sunday denied the state Republican Party's bid to force Washington's most populous county to stop counting some ballots in the recount of the governor's race.

In a conference call with lawyers, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman denied the GOP's request for a temporary restraining order barring the hand-counting of ballots in King County that were rejected because they could not be read electronically.

"It was a good decision," state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said. "It's good for voters because it's consistent with the standard we would like to see — that every vote be counted."

After all counties reported their tallies last Wednesday, Republican Dino Rossi led Democrat Christine Gregoire by only 261 votes out of some 2.8 million ballots cast. State law requires a machine recount when the margin is less than 2,000 votes.

The process should be done by Wednesday, but the uncertainty could stretch into December if a candidate or party demands a total hand recount (search).

Republicans sued Secretary of State Sam Reed (search) and the King County Division of Elections on Saturday, arguing that ballots that could not be counted electronically should be excluded from the recount because they would have to be checked by hand.

The lawsuit said the recount would be inconsistent because hand-counting was not an option in other counties where punch card ballots were used instead of optical scanners.

"This constitutes a clear violation of hundreds of thousands of Washington voters' right to equal protection (search) under the United States and Washington State Constitutions," the lawsuit stated.

GOP Chairman Chris Vance downplayed Pechman's decision, saying it dealt with only one aspect of the lawsuit and was based on King County's assurance that all ballots in question were being kept separate from the others so they can be reviewed if any mistakes are made.

"We don't believe King County," Vance said. "Our observers have watched. Ballots are being altered. And we don't believe they are being set aside."