SEATTLE – A federal judge scheduled a hearing next week to hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by Republicans aiming to block the recount of some ballots in the cliffhanger governor's race.
The Nov. 30 hearing would come two days before Washington is to certify results of the statewide recount triggered by Republican Dino Rossi's (search) razor-thin victory margin.
Election officials say the ballots in question — those that machines couldn't read — are being tracked and could be subtracted if the judge rules in the GOP's favor.
After all counties reported their tallies last Wednesday, Rossi led Democrat Christine Gregoire (search) by 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 recount began Saturday and is expected to wrap up Wednesday. As of Monday night, 24 counties had reported recount results, giving Rossi an extra 25 votes.
The state Republican Party filed suit Saturday, arguing ballots rejected by machines should be excluded from the recount because they have to be checked by hand — a process that the GOP said doesn't happen in counties that use punch-card ballots.
On Sunday, a federal judge denied the GOP's request that heavily Democratic King County be forced to stop hand-counting ballots that machines can't read.
State Elections Director Nick Handy disputed the GOP's argument that "undervotes" — ballots that don't register a vote for a particular candidate — are handled one way in optical-scan counties and a different way in punch-card counties. "The methodology is different but the standard is the same," Handy said.
In King County, a Gregoire stronghold, officials had found another 710 votes with markings apparently clear enough to be tallied, county elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said Monday night.
However, any votes Gregoire picks up from those ballots could be offset because the same recount process is happening elsewhere in the state, including Republican-leaning counties where Rossi won handily.