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Thursday, December 30, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gregoire declared governor-elect, but Rossi wants new vote

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — After three vote tallies and 58 days of waiting, Democrat Christine Gregoire was declared Washington's governor-elect today. But her Republican rival did not concede and wants a new election.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, certified Gregoire, the three-term attorney general, as the winner of the closest governor's race in state history. She won a statewide hand recount by a scant 129 votes out of more than 2.8 million cast.

But Republican candidate Dino Rossi, a former state legislative leader and real-estate investor, said the election was hopelessly flawed and that the Legislature should authorize a new election. He won both of the earlier counts.

Rossi also held open the possibility of contesting the election in the courts.

"I do not feel like this has been a botched election," Reed told a news conference. But he said that because it was so close, any error discovered took on great significance.

"I saw serious mistakes being made. I saw them being corrected," Reed said. "That's part of the process. The system itself has worked well."

"Nothing that I have been informed about rises to the level of fraud," Reed said. "There have been human errors. There have been mistakes. At this time there is nothing that appears fraudulent."

Still, he added, "If I were in Senator Rossi's shoes I would do what he's doing" -- researching all 39 counties and deciding if there are errors or illegal votes that rise to the level of challenging the outcome.

Gregoire scheduled a Capitol news conference later in the day. Her campaign rejected the idea of a new vote and said Rossi should accept the newly certified tally.

"This ain't golf. No mulligans allowed here, folks," Gregoire's spokesman, Morton Brilliant, said Wednesday. "It's irresponsible to spend $4 million in taxpayer money on a new election just because you don't like losing this one."

Rossi said Wednesday night that the uncertainty surrounding the election was bad for the state.

"People need to know for sure that the next governor actually won the election," he said.

An unprecedented statewide hand recount -- the third vote count -- put Gregoire, a three-time attorney general, ahead for the first time, by just a tiny fraction of 1 percent.

She made her mark by fighting America's tobacco industry, Internet porn and schoolyard bullying.

Rossi, a real estate agent and former state senator, won the initial tally last month by 261 votes, triggering an automatic machine recount. He won that count, too, by 42 votes.

The hand recount, done precinct by precinct by bipartisan teams with swarms of observers watching, initially showed Gregoire ahead by just 10 votes. After Democrats and election officials got permission from the state Supreme Court, a batch of more than 700 wayward ballots in King County was tallied, stretching her lead to three digits.

While noting that he could contest the election, Rossi said a legal challenge could drag on for months. The better way to clear up the mess, he said, would be to ask state lawmakers, as soon as they convene on Jan. 10, to pass a bill calling for a special election. That's highly unlikely, since Gregoire won the final count and both houses of the Legislature will be controlled by Democrats.

"A revote would be the best solution for the people of our state, and would give us a legitimate governorship," Rossi's letter said.

Asked what he would do if Gregoire rebuffed his request, Rossi said his campaign would take a close look at election data it has requested from King County and go from there. GOP leaders have spent the last several days weighing whether to proceed with contesting the results.

A legal challenge would have to be filed by Jan. 22, 10 days after Gregoire's scheduled inauguration.

Gov. Gary Locke said he strongly disagreed with Rossi's call for another election. "The people have voted, and all votes properly cast were counted," said Locke, a Democrat who's retiring after two terms.

Both Gregoire and Rossi have maintained transition offices, appointing teams to work on a state budget, cabinet appointments and an agenda for the upcoming Legislature.

Rossi had been using the title "governor-elect," and his family even toured the Governor's Mansion.

Gregoire, who would be only the second female governor in Washington history, was a top official in the attorney general's office before then-Gov. Booth Gardner tapped her as state ecology director. In 1992 she was elected to the first of three terms as attorney general.

She made her mark as lead negotiator between the states and America's tobacco industry, winning a landmark settlement that should bring the states more than $200 billion.

The settlement compensates the states for tobacco-related health care costs, and curbs marketing efforts like billboards and ads aimed at youth. In exchange, states agreed not to pursue potentially crippling lawsuits against tobacco companies.

Gregoire negotiated a pact with the federal government to clean up contamination at the Hanford nuclear reservation. She also dealt with Internet child porn, schoolyard bullying, identity theft, Enron and Western power rates.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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