A trial to determine whether the results of Washington state's gubernatorial election last fall should be thrown out opened Monday with the Republicans charging that the Democrats "stole" the contest for Christine Gregoire (search), who won by 129 votes out of 2.9 million cast.
The GOP wants Dino Rossi (search) declared the winner or a do-over election held.
"This is a case of election fraud," GOP attorney Dale Foreman said in his opening statement in the trial, which is being heard by a Superior Court judge without a jury. "This election was stolen from the legal voters of this state by a bizarre combination of illegal voters and bungling bureaucrats."
Foreman surprised the court with a new claim: that the Democrats rigged the election by stuffing ballot boxes in Gregoire's two strongest precincts and by "losing" votes in two of Rossi's strongest precincts.
The findings in Seattle's heavily Democratic King County show "partisan bias and not random error," Foreman said. "If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck."
Up to now, the Republicans have largely complained of bungling rather than outright fraud on the part of election officials.
Foreman also said the GOP will prove that when all illegal votes are subtracted from both candidates, Rossi won the election.
Democratic attorney Kevin Hamilton countered by arguing that the Republicans lack the "serious proof" they need to make their case and justify the removal of the governor. He showed the judge a Power Point slide titled "Evidence we won't see."
Every election has mistakes, Hamilton said, and the 2004 Washington governor's contest was no exception, but "imperfection is not enough to overturn an election."
He also said the Republicans' belated claim of fraud demonstrates "desperation" on their part.
Chelan County Superior Court Judge John E. Bridges said that later in the day he would consider a request from the Democrats to exclude evidence relating to claims not previously raised — such as fraud.
"This case is going to set the rules for all future election contests in Washington state, large and small," said state Elections Director Nick Handy as he waited for the courtroom to open. "It's going to be closure, at last, to this long and difficult election."
Nevertheless, Bridges' verdict will almost certainly be appealed to the Washington Supreme Court.
Rossi, a former state senator and commercial real estate agent, won the first count by 261 votes and a machine recount by 42 votes — seemingly a stunning upset for Gregoire, a three-term attorney general in a Democratic-leaning state.
But during a hand recount of 2.9 million ballots, the Democratic stronghold of Seattle made Gregoire the winner by 129 votes. Gregoire was inaugurated in January, amid protests from Rossi supporters.
Neither Gregoire nor her opponent Rossi planned to attend the trial.
The judge decided to move the trial from his small courtroom in eastern Washington appeal country to the county auditorium to accommodate the more than 50 people who showed up Monday morning.
Security was tight: Everyone walked through a metal detector, and an explosive-sniffing dog checked bags.