For the first time since the Nov. 2 election, it looks as though the tide could be turning.
Election officials in the Democratic stronghold of King County announced Monday that they would count more than 500 ballots that were mistakenly rejected after the election — possibly enough to swing the election to Gregoire.
Rossi won the Nov. 2 election by 261 votes, but saw that margin shrink to 42 votes after a machine recount of all 2.9 million ballots cast. As of Monday night, with 24 of the state's 39 counties completing their hand recounts, Rossi had gained 46 votes.
But King County Elections Director Dean Logan said an error had "prevented valid ballots from being counted" in the heavily Democratic county that includes Seattle. Gregoire won about 58 percent of the vote there.
Logan said workers did not count 561 absentee ballots because the signatures on them did not match computerized voter registration records. But he discovered Sunday that the signatures simply were not on file in the county's computer system.
Logan said Monday that election workers will retrieve the ballots, check the signatures against the original paper records, and deliver all valid ballots to the canvassing board on Wednesday for inclusion in the hand recount.
"We take full responsibility," Logan said. "We need to correct the error and count those votes."
Meanwhile, in response to a state Democratic Party lawsuit, the state Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether county officials will have to reconsider all of Washington's previously rejected ballots, including those thrown out because of voter errors such as failing to sign the ballot or missing a deadline to verify a signature.
The high court heard arguments Monday in Olympia and a decision is expected in the next few days.
"Washington will show the nation it is committed to counting every vote," David Burman, attorney for the Democrats, told the court. Burman estimated about 3,000 ballots were wrongly rejected and should be included in the hand recount. Two-thirds are in King County.
The secretary of state's office, county auditors, Rossi and the state Republican Party fought the motion in court. State law defines a recount as re-tabulating the valid ballots, not dredging up ballots that have already been considered and rejected, they contended.