SEATTLE - One of the closest and more bizarre elections of any state in U.S. history may have finally come to a close yesterday, nearly two months after ballots were cast. Or maybe it didn't.
Democrat Christine Gregoire was certified yesterday as the governor-elect, after losing two machine-read vote counts, but prevailing in an unprecedented hand recount of the 2.9 million ballots cast. Gregoire, the state attorney general, quickly convened a postelection victory celebration with her family that winning candidates usually throw within hours of the polls closing.
"An election night without end has concluded," Gregoire, 57, told cheering supporters in Olympia. "And I am honored to stand before you as governor-elect of the great state of Washington."
But the angry Republican response was essentially: Certification, schmertification.
Gregoire's opponent, former state Sen. Dino Rossi, vowed to continue to contest the outcome, and he and his supporters also stepped up calls for a revote.
The confusing and downright wacky nature of the race was highlighted yesterday when the two candidates held dueling public events within a half-hour of each other.
Rossi went first, producing parents holding a photograph of their son stationed in Fallujah, who, they said, received a ballot so late that he threw it out, thinking it would not be counted. Democrats disputed the assertion, but Rossi said it was evidence of an election so "muddied" and botched that a new vote needed to be held.
"I wouldn't want to take office with this cloud overhead. I would want a revote," said Rossi, 45, who last month had called on Gregoire to concede when what he called the "more accurate" machine recount had put him ahead by 42 votes.
Gregoire said the recount process had worked exactly as outlined in state law, with the "gold standard" of a hand recount having uncovered roughly 4,000 votes that for various reasons had gone unread by the machines, as well as some absentee ballots that had been wrongly disqualified. She dismissed the notion that a new election was necessary.
"A do-over, to Mike and I, is only in golf," said Gregoire, referring to her husband. "We call it a mulligan. This is not golf."
Gregoire was declared the winner yesterday by Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, putting him in the unusual position of having certified both Rossi and Gregoire as governor-elect.
On Nov. 24, Reed, following state election law, declared Rossi the winner, by 42 votes, or a stunningly small 0.0015 percent of the vote. But the Democrats, also following election law, demanded the hand recount allowed for when a statewide margin is 150 votes or less.
It is that contentious process - albeit one overseen by the members of both major parties who make up county election boards - that produced a different set of results, with Gregoire winning by 129 votes.
Reed said he believed the election was fair and not "botched," but he did not declare it indisputably over.
"I would not say I think somebody ought to be conceding at this point," he said.
A new election would need authorization from the courts or the Legislature - where Democrats control both houses.
The GOP moved quickly on several fronts yesterday to undermine Gregoire's legitimacy, fighting for any leverage they can give Rossi in his bid to become the state's first Republican governor in 20 years.
The powerful architect of several statewide anti-tax initiatives, Tim Eyman, called on his supporters to "bury Olympia" with angry phone calls.
"Tell them all that you demand a revote on the governor's race," Eyman wrote in an e-mail message. "Tell them that they're kicking a hornet's nest by rejecting your vote and your decision for governor."
Other Republicans suggested Rossi supporters tie Ukrainian-style orange ribbons around their car antennas. Democrats said the protest was petulant.
Some election-law experts said Gregoire's victory would be less than rock-solid until the state Supreme Court gets involved in the certification issue.
The court's nine members are elected in nonpartisan races. It did essentially rule in Gregoire's favor this month when it ordered that roughly 500 previously uncounted absentee ballots in the Democratic stronghold of King County be counted.
Those ballots, sealed in the inner envelopes a voter signs when mailing in an absentee ballot, had been erroneously cast aside because of a computer error.
Republicans protested, accusing King County of conducting a partisan treasure hunt for votes, but Democrats noted that some more-GOP-friendly counties also turned up new ballots. Neither Democrats nor Republicans objected to counting those votes.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.