At Last! A New Gov. For Washington

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After three vote tallies and nearly two nerve-racking months of waiting, Democrat Christine Gregoire was declared Washington's governor-elect on Thursday. But her Republican rival did not concede and wants a new election.

"Less than two weeks from today I will take the oath of office as your next governor of the great state of Washington," an ebullient Gregoire told supporters at a Capitol news conference.

The Republican candidate, Dino Rossi, said he was exploring whether to contest the election in the courts or in the Legislature.

Rossi and the state GOP said they have discovered a discrepancy of more than 3,500 votes in strongly Democratic King County, the state's largest, possibly pointing to fraud or mistakes that could have swung the ultra-close election.

"I think we need to examine what's right and what's wrong and let's expose it and see if we can correct it," he said at a news conference from his campaign headquarters.

Gregoire congratulated Rossi for running a strong campaign, and said it was up to him to decide when and where to concede. But she ruled out a brand new election.

"Do-overs" only occur in golf, and only during practice, she said. "This is not golf and this is not practice."

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.

While there were mistakes, Reed told a news conference, "at this time there is nothing that appears fraudulent."

"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."

But Rossi, a former state legislative leader, would not concede, saying 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, and Reed said he was fully within his rights to continue to research a possible further challenge.

Gregoire's 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."

A revote would have to be approved by the Democrat-controlled state Legislature.

"The uncertainty surrounding this election process isn't just bad for you and me — it is bad for the entire state," Rossi said, reading from a letter he said he sent to Gregoire. "People need to know for sure that the next governor actually won the election."

An unprecedented statewide hand recount had put Gregoire ahead for the first time, by just a tiny fraction of 1 percent.

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.

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 lawmakers to pass a bill calling for a special election as soon as the state Legislature convenes in early January for the 2005 session.

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.

After the election, more than 700 ballots surfaced in the heavily Democratic county, which includes Seattle. The additional votes allowed Gregoire to stretch her lead from just 10 votes in the hand recount to her triple-digit advantage. 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.

Amid the weeks of uncertainty, 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.

By David Ammons