Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Washington Governors Race Revote?

This race in no way affects me, but I find it fascinating. For those who may not have been following because it doesn't affect them either, let me quickly summarize. The race between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire was very close, and after all the votes were initially counted Rossi led by 42 votes.

Now, the law in Washington state allows for a recount, which is conducted in the same way the original counting was done, and then for a manual hand recount, if the party requesting the manual recount is willing to pay for it. (If the results are overturned, they get their money back.) After the first recount Rossi's led grew to 200 something votes. Naturally, there is strong pressure for Gregoire to concede from the GOP, but she requests a manual recounts and is able to raise the million or so dollars it will cost in about three days. During the manual recount, Kings County (Seattle, essentially) discovers 700 or so ballots that were not counted in the first count or the first recount. Since Kings County is a Democratic stronghold, the GOP cries foul and goes to court to stop the newly discovered votes from being recounted. After winning an initial ruling, the Washington state Supreme Court orders those additional ballots to be counted.

Even without the new ballots, Gregoire ends up ahead in the balloting by 10 votes after the manually recount. With the tally from the newly discovered votes, she is ahead by 120 votes. Since the law doesn't allow for any additional recounts, the Washington Secretary of State, Sam Reed (a Republican), certifies the result, making Gregoire the Governor-elect.

Unsurprisingly, this does not sit very well with Rossi and his supporters, who feel as though they have been robbed of their upset. (Washington has had a Democratic governor for the last 20 years.) Initially they attacked the manual recount as less reliable than the machine recount, but abandon that line of attack after realizing that it is probably not a smart to argue that machines are better than humans. Some supporters have attacked Kings County as being corrupt and "finding" enough Gregoire votes to make sure that she would win, but the evidence of such a massive and systematic fraud has not been forthcoming, and to make such charges without any evidence is counterproductive. So now the strategy is to argue that the whole electoral system is so error filled and broken that there is no way that a true winner can ever be determined. No matter the argument, their solution is clear -- a revote.

It appears that either a court or the legislature could order a revote, although I have not researched the Washington election law that in-depth. The legislature is controlled by Democrats, so it is impossible to believe that they will direct a revote, so the final recourse is the courts.

However, my analysis is that for the court to direct a revote, there will have to be a finding of more than voter registration problems and ballot counting errors. Rossi supporters have put a great deal of energy into finding errors in voter registration and in the ballot counting, on the assumption that if they can show 120 or so "errors" a court will have grounds to order a revote on the grounds that the system is broken. Such a court decision, however, would create electoral chaos, and would lead to every close election being challenged in court, and potentially being ordered to be redone. (But what margin of victory would be enough? 1,000 votes; 5,000; 20,000 -- it is a Pandora's Box that no court will want to open.) A finding of systematic fraud, on the other hand, would probably led a court to order a revote, but a revote isn't going to happen, unless that fraud can be proven.

So the situation is thus - Gregoire is going to be Governor, barring the discovery of systematic fraud. Rossi and his supporters can push for a revote, but they do so at their own peril. Right now my feeling, from all the way across the country, is that popular opinion is slightly more in favor of Rossi. (No small reason why he would like a revote.) But the longer the push for a revote goes on, again without finding systemic fraud, the more public opinion will turn against him. If he abandons his revote push, saying something like we will never know who won this vote, but we need some closure (ala Al Gore in 2000), he may come out looking even better, and be in a strong position to run for Senate in '06 or Governor in '08. (However, ask Al Gore how the strategy of being the noble loser worked out for him.) It is a tough position for Rossi to be in - no matter what path he takes, he won't come out ahead.

Two blogs worth reading on the topic are Sound Politics (Rossi supporters) and Horsesass.org (Gregorie supporters). I will keep you, steadfast reader, updated on any interesting developments.