No kidding. Halfway through the hand recount in King County, officials announced they were overturning the policy of not counting ballots that had ovals filled in for both candidates (“overvotes”), and would instead send those ballots to a canvassing board for review. Then, it was learned that 2,000 more votes were counted in King County than the number of individual voters who appeared on the list of those who had cast a ballot. Logan admitted the discrepancy, but said that it did “not clearly indicate that the election would have turned out differently.”
Finally, King County officials admitted to discovering 573 new absentee ballots weeks after the election and then counting them. They also acknowledged that at least 348 unverified provisional ballots were fed directly into vote-counting machines on Election Day. “Did it happen? Yes. Unfortunately, that’s part of the process in King County,” Logan’s deputy Bill Huennekens told the Seattle Times. “It’s a very human process, and in some cases that did happen.” In the four previous November elections, King County workers had never mishandled more than nine provisional ballots in a single election.
All of these changes added up. Two days before Christmas, 2004, Gregoire was declared the winner by 129 votes. Voters were outraged. A January poll found that respondents favored a revote for governor by 53 percent to 35 percent. The Republican party contested the election, and the case went to trial before Judge John Bridges in May 2005.
After weeks of testimony, the judge ruled that 1,678 illegal votes were cast (felons, double voters, etc.) and that there were 875 more votes than credited voters who had cast ballots in King County, as well as 540 more uncredited votes in other counties.
But the judge ultimately agreed with Gregoire’s lawyers that there was insufficient evidence to attribute the uncredited ballots to illegal voting, and he ruled that the illegal ballots couldn’t be subtracted from a candidate’s total unless it could be proven for whom the vote was cast.
Curiously, the failure of the Rossi lawsuit didn’t make much difference in public opinion. A poll of state voters showed that more people believed that Rossi was the legitimate winner of the election after the trial than before. But Christine Gregoire was installed in the governor’s mansion in Olympia, and she lives there to this day (she is retiring this year).
Unlike Florida in 2000 or Washington State in 2004, if a similar recount were to happen in Ohio or elsewhere this year, every decision about every ballot would be fought out in social media. It might make for an exciting story, but it would be one that would do a lot to damage our democracy as well as the legitimacy of whoever is inaugurated as president.