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Tuesday, April 26, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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More mistakes revealed in ballot counting

Seattle Times staff reporters

In his first questioning under oath about the governor's election, King County Elections Director Dean Logan revealed additional errors in the handling of ballots and acknowledged that the county did not follow recommendations by its elections-oversight committee that were designed to avoid some of those very mistakes.

Logan revealed the mishandling of 125 provisional ballots in addition to 660 disclosed earlier. He also said three absentee ballots had been found in counting machines in a discovery never made public.

And he detailed more than 200 ballots that were set aside for more research but were never dealt with; at least some of those should have been counted in what turned out to be the closest gubernatorial election in the nation's history.

Over two days of questioning last week in a Seattle law office by Republican and Democratic attorneys, Logan defended King County's election system and his staff, saying there was neglect in the handling of some ballots but not any misconduct.

A 474-page transcript of Logan's deposition in a lawsuit brought by Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi was released late yesterday by Rossi's office. He lost to Gov. Christine Gregoire by 129 votes after a hand recount reversed the outcome of the original count and a machine recount.

As Republicans bore in on questions about ballot tracking and security, Logan said he was sure that election observers made it virtually impossible for anyone to purposefully vote more than once.

"So if people sneezed at a polling place, we got a phone call about it," he said. "So if somebody was trying to stuff the ballot box, I think it would be very unlikely that we would not have heard about that."

Republican attorney Rob Maguire said to Logan near the end of the questioning, "Do you know whether the returns in King County were accurate within 129 votes?"

Logan: "No, I do not."

Maguire also questioned Logan about a report by the King County Citizens' Election Oversight Committee. The panel was appointed after foul-ups in the election division in 2002, before Logan was hired.

Maguire had Logan read a series of recommendations by the committee that were designed to avoid errors in counting provisional ballots, including the suggestion that provisional ballots be printed a different color so they could be differentiated from other ballots.

The report was released last May and Logan said that left little time to implement changes.

"We had to consider what changes in polling processes were the most easily achieved in time for a brand-new election in September in a manner that could contemplate the literally thousands of election-board workers being able to absorb and comprehend those changes in time to administer the fall elections," Logan said.

Rossi filed his legal challenge to the election in January. A trial begins May 23 in Chelan County Superior Court on Rossi's claims that errors and illegal votes mean the election should be overturned and Gregoire removed from office.

Republicans have focused their investigation on King County. April 18 was their first chance to grill Logan on previously reported counting errors and about details of the process the county uses for tracking ballots, policing voter rolls for felons and the deceased and other practices.

But it is clear that Democrats are unhappy with the county, too.

The two days of questioning began with Democratic Party attorney Kevin Hamilton saying the county failed to turn over documents as promised in court.

King County deputy prosecuting attorney Don Porter said during the deposition that he disagreed with that characterization but did not give specifics.

Republicans focused many of their questions on trying to determine what precautions King County takes to track ballots from the printing plant through the final recount.

Among answers from Logan:

• The county has a "ballot-on-demand" system that allows workers to print additional ballots in the elections office and at the mail ballot satellite office. Logan said probably less than a dozen people have access to the machines and that the system is password-protected. But he said there is not a "specific inventory of the number of ballots that are produced on the ballot-on-demand system."

• King County does not have a report of how many absentee ballots were mailed in by voters. The county does keep track of the number of absentee ballots counted and those rejected.

• Three uncounted absentee ballots were found in the base of voting machines long after Election Day.

• Some valid ballots were mistakenly rejected because of incorrect data in the voter-registration database.

• Election workers had difficulties getting exact numbers from the new database.

• Absentee voters were credited with voting if they returned envelopes with no ballots inside.

Logan confirmed that more provisional ballots were mishandled than last reported. The county previously had acknowledged 660 provisional ballots mistakenly went through tabulators without being verified.

Logan did not have a specific number. But a spreadsheet given to the attorneys showed the number of mishandled provisional ballots is now 785. Election officials found that 122 of the voters were not registered.

Democrats asked Logan about 208 absentee ballots that had been set aside and labeled, "Not registered, needed further research."

Logan said that "is sort of a miscellaneous category" where ballots were put that couldn't be verified "but that there was indication that there may be other research that could help us identify who that voter was."

Logan said that since the election his staff has determined that some of those should have been counted, but he didn't know how many.

"I believe there are some that fall into that category, again, where we got subsequent information after certification of the election that indicated a name change or where through further staff review, somebody else was able to decipher what the handwriting was or something to that effect."

Attorney David McDonald, manager of the Democrats' legal team, said he didn't believe Rossi gained much legal ammunition from Logan's depositions.

"If the transcript was available this morning and they didn't have a press conference this afternoon, my conclusion is they probably didn't pick up much," McDonald said.

But Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane said Logan's testimony adds details to the Republican case.

"We said all along you can't tell who won this election. In light of these depositions we find out that the situation in King County was much more chaotic than we originally thought, from lack of accounting for blank ballots, to even the head of elections being unable to say with certainty who won this election."

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or dpostman@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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