Wash. GOP Election Challenge Drags On

As the unprecedented legal challenge to Washington's 2004 gubernatorial election heads into its second week, state Democrats and Republicans are focused on one thing — Gov. Christine Gregoire's (search) victory.

Republicans are asking Superior Court Judge John Bridges to nullify Gregoire's 129-vote win and open the way for her challenger, Dino Rossi (search), to be declared winner or set a rematch.

The margin was the smallest of any governor's contest in U.S. history.

On Friday, Republicans rested their case and Democrats moved for immediate dismissal. Bridges denied the motion, meaning that Democrats will defend the election when the trial resumes on Tuesday.

The GOP's challenge hinges on the Democratic stronghold of King County (search), Washington's largest, where election officials have acknowledged errors in tracking and counting ballots. Democrats planned to argue that mistakes happened everywhere — not just in King County, and not just in the counties that supported Gregoire.

"There is no such thing as a perfect election," Democratic attorney Kevin Hamilton said last week. "There are always lots of little mistakes. That doesn't invalidate an election."

Democrats on Friday called auditors from across the state to testify about similar election errors. Altogether, they acknowledged counting 959 questionable votes. Eight of the nine auditors came from counties that voted for Rossi.

State Elections Director Nick Handy was expected to testify Tuesday. Handy said he agreed with the Democrats' basic premise: "Elections are run by people, and mistakes happen."

But, Republicans contend that the election errors presented only strengthen their arguments.

"Their case is a two-edged sword," GOP attorney Mark Braden said. "Are they arguing this election was good and she won, or are they arguing it was screwed up everywhere?"

Handy said his office will take no position on who the judge should rule for in the matter — Rossi or Gregoire. "We are the impartial elections administration office," Handy said.

One interesting request: Assistant Attorney General Jeff Even (search) said that if the judge rules in favor of Rossi's election challenge, the secretary of state's office would like a "firm and final vote total" in the governor's election — presumably subtracting all illegal votes. That number is needed to determine the signature-gathering requirements for initiatives and referenda.