SEATTLE – Democrat Christine Gregoire (search) won the Washington governor's race by 130 votes out of 2.9 million ballots cast, according to final recount results announced Thursday from Seattle's King County, the last of the state's 39 counties to report.
Hundreds of belatedly discovered ballots helped extend what otherwise would have been just a 10-vote advantage for Gregoire in her topsy-turvy race with Republican Dino Rossi (search). The first ballot count showed Rossi winning by 261 votes, and a subsequent machine recount had Rossi winning by 42. The latest recount was conducted by hand.
"Wooo-hooo!" exulted state Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirstin Brost moments after the results were announced. "We're very excited. We always believed she would win."
Secretary of State Sam Reed (search) is scheduled to certify the election Dec. 30. After that, the election results probably will be challenged in court, or possibly the Legislature.
State law allows any registered voter to challenge election results, and Republicans have begun asking that elections officials reconsider votes for Rossi that they say were wrongly rejected.
"We're going to be going across the state demanding they make every vote count," Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane said earlier Thursday.
Since Election Day, Gregoire has gone from favorite to underdog and back to favorite.
A three-term state attorney general, Gregoire, 57, was widely viewed as the anointed successor to Democrat Gov. Gary Locke. Rossi, 45, a real estate agent and former state senator, jumped into the race only after the GOP's first three choices declined to run.
Washington is a blue state — Democrats hold the majority in the Legislature, both U.S. senators are Democrats, and John Kerry (search) won 53 percent of the statewide vote. But Washington voters also flaunt a strong independent streak, and Rossi's sunny message of change caught on with swing voters.
Gregoire and Rossi spent about $6 million each during the campaign, a new state record, and outside groups spent millions more.
After Rossi won the first two counts, Democrats paid $730,000 for the hand recount. By law the state has to repay the party if the recount reverses the results.
"We asked for a hand count because we knew machines make mistakes," Brost said.
During the hand recount, King County election officials discovered that hundreds of ballots had been mistakenly rejected because of problems with how the voters' signatures had been scanned into the computer system. Over Republican objections, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that state law allows county canvassing boards to correct mistakes in the returns, allowing King County to count those 732 ballots.
Election officials found 566 of those ballots to be valid; 311 were for Gregoire, 191 for Rossi.
On Thursday morning, Republicans submitted affidavits to King County elections officials from 91 people who voted for Rossi and believe their ballots were erroneously rejected.
Dean Logan, the county's elections director and one of three members on its canvassing board, said those ballots would not be re-evaluated because they had been properly considered and rejected.
Despite Republicans' requests, most auditors statewide have decided not to reconsider rejected ballots, said Corky Mattingly, Yakima County's auditor and president of the Washington State Association of County Auditors.
The auditors agree with Reed, a Republican, that state law prohibits counties from recanvassing after their results have been certified, Mattingly said.
"This is the end," Mattingly said Thursday. "You don't just keep recertifying and recertifying."
Republicans also have accused King County of failing to send absentee ballots to military voters or sending them too late, and they want that mistake corrected, too. Logan said all absentee ballots were sent out on time, including those to military voters.
"You will continue to hear accusations of fraud, of changing rules, of manufactured votes," Logan said Thursday, addressing rumors that have been flying on local blogs and talk radio. "I believe the record shows most of these allegations, if not all of them, are totally untrue."
An election challenge could go through state courts or possibly to the state Legislature — experts disagree on what the law says. If the losing side alleges possible violations of the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution, the election could end up in federal court.
"The (state) Supreme Court just changed the rules," state GOP Chairman Chris Vance said Wednesday. "Now we will aggressively fight by those new rules."
If further legal wrangling holds up the Jan. 12 inauguration of a new governor, Locke may have to stay. Locke has made it clear he is not interested in hanging around.