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Two weeks later, election of governor still in doubt

In one of the closest races in history

In one of the closest races in the state's history, voters in Washington still do not know who will move into the governor's mansion in Olympia in January.

As of Monday, Nov. 15, the election remained too close to call, and the results were seesawing back and forth with different leaders on different days. The last of the "provisional ballots" were to be counted on Nov. 17, and there were enough outstanding ballots to decisively swing the race one way or the other.

Unofficial and still incomplete returns from the Washington Secretary of State's Office on Monday evening showed that Republican Dino Rossi had lost the lead of nearly 2,000 votes he had held all through the weekend. As of 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 15, the latest returns showed Christine Gregoire, the Democratic Party candidate, with a lead of 453 votes. Gregoire had 1,358,246 votes, 48.88 percent, against Rossi's 1,357,793 votes, for 48.87 percent.

A third party candidate, Ruth Bennett, a Libertarian, was gaining just enough support to prevent either of the two major party candidates from pulling away. Bennett had 62,209 votes, or 2.23 percent of the total cast.

Approximately 27,000 ballots remained to be counted.

A recount is automatic if the final margin is within one-half of one percent or less than 2,000 votes.

The long wait has taken a toll on supporters of both candidates.

Timi Keene, a local Democratic Party operative and Gregoire backer, said she was surprised at the closeness of the race.

"I thought it would be close, but I would not have expected it to be quite this close," Keene said.

She added that she was not confident Gregoire would be able to win the contest.

"My personal opinion is that Rossi's going to pull it off," Keene said.

However, Keene said waiting for the votes to be processed should not be perceived as a problem.

"I'm sure everyone would like a decision to be final as soon as possible, but at the same time everyone wishes to ensure that the process is legitimized," she explained.

Laura Cheney, chair of the Klickitat County Republican Party, said she remained optimistic that Rossi would prevail despite the closeness of the count.

"We're hoping he wins in the end," Cheney said. "Patience is what's called for at this point."

Cheney said she met Rossi during the campaign and was impressed with him.

"He was in our area about three time before the election, and I met him in New York City when I was there at the Republican National Convention," Cheney explained. "I think he would be a wonderful governor for the whole state."

The political parties expanded the contest as they snapped at each other with dueling press releases.

Late last week, the Democratic Party filed suit to ensure that the state's most populous county, King County, followed the same procedures for processing provisional ballots as other counties around the state. Chris Vance, the chairman of the Washington Republican Party, responded with a press release ripping the Democrats for filing the lawsuit.

"We are very disappointed and concerned that Christine Gregoire is resorting to desperate legal tactics that will drag this election process into court, just as the Democratic Party did in Florida four years ago. They're behind and they're grasping at straws," read a statement from Vance.

Paul Berendt, chairman of the Washington Democratic Party, said his objective was a simple one.

"Democrats have one objective: count every vote," Berendt explained in a statement.

The lawsuit centered around the way provisional ballots are being counted.

"Not all King County voters are being treated the same," the lawsuit charged. "Within King County itself, absentee ballots and provisional ballots are being treated differently. Almost every county is making the list of rejected provisional ballots available to the public, so they can check the accuracy of the system and increase the chances that every vote will be counted. King County is not. Making this information available would ... simply allow the public to know whose ballots are being rejected in enough time for these voters to come forward and salvage their vote."

A judge subsequently ruled that the county needed to publicly release the names of voters whose ballots were being challenged.

Skamania County Auditor Mike Garvison said all the candidates and the state's voters could do was relax and wait for the counting process to work its way through.

"We won't know who won until Wednesday (Nov. 17) at the final canvassing," Garvison said.

Cheney believes it may take even longer than that.

"This could very likely go to a recount," she said.


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