SHELTON, Wash. – A recount by hand of 2.9 million votes began Wednesday to determine the winner of the closest gubernatorial race in state history.
Six of the state's 39 counties started the recount Wednesday, with the rest to begin Thursday.
The first county to report results showed no change from the earlier machine recount. Garfield County, in eastern Washington, reported results in the early afternoon after hand-counting 1,293 votes: 65 percent for Rossi, 33 percent for Gregoire and 2 percent for Libertarian Ruth Bennett. Mason County also finished its hand recount, reporting a net gain of three votes for Rossi.
Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court (search) scheduled a Monday hearing on the state Democratic Party's motion to reconsider ballots that were previously invalidated.
Whether Washington will have a governor by the Jan. 12 inauguration is anyone's guess. Rossi, a 45-year-old commercial real estate agent, won the first count by 261 votes against Gregoire, a three-term attorney general who was initially favored to win.
The recount went quickly in Shelton, southwest of Seattle, where workers were fueled by coffee, soda and cookies supplied by Mason County. Sitting at a folding table under fluorescent lights, Republican Lloyd Haskins Sr. held up ballots for Democrat Carl Brownstein to see, and they both marked their running totals on white scrap paper.
Each team of two vote-counters and one recorder included one person recruited by the local Democratic Party and one recruited by the GOP. They were paid $7.16 an hour; the pay varied by county.
Both Brownstein, a high school teacher, and Haskins, who is unemployed, got involved in politics this year because they felt strongly about the presidential election — but never guessed they'd be counting votes in December.
"This was beyond anyone's imagination," Haskins said.
Political observers hovered over their shoulders as the count proceeded.
"At the end I really wanted to turn around and tell people to go away," Brownstein confessed.
Also Wednesday, an Alaska group submitted an application for a recount of last month's U.S. Senate race there. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (search) beat Democrat Tony Knowles (search) by more than 9,500 votes, or 3 percentage points.
David Koester, a member of Recount Alaska 2004, said AccuVote scanners used in Alaska have proven inconsistent elsewhere and exit polls had put Knowles ahead in the race. Recount organizers want 10 percent of the 439 precincts to be verified by a hand count.