SEATTLE (AP) - Washington state Republicans planned to ask a judge to prevent King County from including newly discovered ballots in the hand recount of the election for governor, including 162 misplaced absentee ballots found in a warehouse Friday.
King County elections officials found a tray containing the ballots in a locked section of the warehouse Friday. They raise the number of ballots in question to 735.
Republican Dino Rossi won the Nov. 2 election over Democrat Christine Gregoire by 261 votes in the first count and by 42 after a machine recount. On Thursday, with every county except King, Pierce and Spokane reporting, Rossi had gained 32 votes in the hand recount for a margin of 74.
King County, the state's most populous, is a Gregoire stronghold. The newly discovered ballots, if counted, could reverse the outcome and make Gregoire the winner.
King County Elections Director Dean Logan told The Seattle Times that the ballots in the tray, like the 573 other ballots, were mistakenly rejected because there was a problem with how the voters' signatures had been scanned into the county's computer system. The tray apparently was left behind and forgotten in the warehouse, Logan said.
Election workers, along with observers from the political parties, searched the locked cage inside the warehouse.
Officials became curious because none of the 573 ballot envelopes discovered earlier this week contained names beginning with the letters A or B, and only two started with C, The Times reported. When officials looked for the envelopes Thursday night, "They were not where they were expected to be," Logan said, adding he was "fairly certain" they were in the warehouse cage.
King County election officials want to count the ballots, which they say are valid votes. Republicans want those ballots to stay rejected - or at the very least, they want King County to investigate further before adding them to the mix.
"If King County moves forward we will never know the truth about those ballots," state Republican Chairman Chris Vance said Thursday. "We want to get some answers about these very suspicious ballots."
"Dino Rossi is the accidental governor-elect," said state Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt. "The only reason he was in the lead at the end of the last count is because of King County's mistake. Now that the mistakes are being fixed, (Republicans) want to stop valid votes from being counted."
On Friday, a Pierce County Superior Court judge was tentatively scheduled to hear an expected state GOP motion for a temporary restraining order against King County Elections. It would be the third lawsuit to challenge part of the vote-counting process.
Specifically, the Republican Party wants to stop King County from taking the newly discovered ballots out of their outer envelopes, which bear the voter's signature. Vance said removing the envelopes would make it far more difficult to determine where the ballots came from, whether they were stored correctly and why they were not counted previously.
Bill Huennekens, King County elections superintendent, said county workers will not remove any ballots from their security envelopes until the Republicans' lawsuit is resolved.
The King County Canvassing Board voted 2-1 on Wednesday to begin recanvassing the 573 ballots.
On Thursday, election workers continued their search of the paper voter registration files to find the signatures of the 573 voters. By Thursday afternoon they had found 311 signatures, Huennekens said.
Zach Oaks, 22, a Gregoire supporter from Issaquah, said he was "pretty irritated" to learn his vote was one of the 573 not counted.
"What makes my vote any less important than anyone else's?" he asked Thursday. "I did everything right. It's really pretty ridiculous."
The King County Canvassing Board is scheduled to meet again Monday to decide whether to count the previously rejected absentee ballots after they are verified.
The board will also decide the fate of 22 other uncounted ballots, found this week in the side bins of plastic base units in which polling machines sit.
All ballots should have been logged on Election Night and returned in a sealed bag to election headquarters, but these 22 apparently weren't. They've been sitting unsecured at various polling places since the election.
The hand recount is expected to finish by Dec. 22, though there's no deadline set in state law. The governor's inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 12.
On the Net:
Recount results: http://www.vote.wa.gov