BELLEVUE, Wash. — A judge Monday upheld Democrat Christine Gregoire’s victory in last fall’s governor’s election, and defeated GOP candidate Dino Rossi said he would not appeal — ending the legal fight over the closest gubernatorial election in U.S. history.
“With today’s decision, and because of the political makeup of the Washington State Supreme Court, which makes it almost impossible to overturn this ruling, I am ending the election contest,” Rossi said at his campaign headquarters in Bellevue.
The election — decided by an amazingly narrow margin of 129 votes out of 2.9 million cast — included 1,678 illegally cast ballots, Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges found.
But in a ruling issued in his Wenatchee courtroom, Bridges rejected GOP claims that the election was stolen through errors and fraud, and said Republicans had failed to prove that Rossi would have won had the illegal votes been disregarded.
“Unless an election is clearly invalid, when the people have spoken their verdict should not be disturbed by the courts,” Bridges said. Nullifying the election, he said, would be “the ultimate act of judicial egotism and judicial activism.”
The judge threw out only a few illegally cast votes, which raised Gregoire’s margin of victory to 133.
“This court is not in the position to fix the deficiencies in the election process,” Bridges said. “However, the voters are in a position to demand of their legislative and executive bodies that remedial measures be taken immediately.”
‘The cloud is over’
Gregoire, who has held office for five months under a cloud of uncertainty, said she burst into tears upon learning of the judge’s decision.
“I think the cloud is over and I think it’s time for Washington state to move on and to make sure we set this behind us,” she said in Olympia. “We don’t have to be the attention of the nation about an election that took place six months ago.”
“I continue to believe that mounting this election challenge, and shining the lights on the various problems of our election system, was the right thing to do,” Rossi said at a late afternoon news conference.
Bridges’ ruling came after a two-week trial that turned over rocks in election departments around the state, exposing flaws and quirks that usually don’t matter because the results usually aren’t so close. But in an election decided by so few votes, every little mistake has the power to change the outcome.
Focus on King County
Republicans concentrated their attacks on the Democratic stronghold of King County, the state’s most populous county. The trial exposed various problems, from inaccurate mail ballot reports to Election Director Dean Logan’s admission that he didn’t know whether the results were accurate within 129 votes.
In the short run, Republicans had said they were seeking a new election for Rossi. But many hope the facts aired at trial will spur more election reform. The state Legislature passed several election reform bills this year but left many others on the table.
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“This is the biggest mess I’ve ever seen,” GOP attorney Dale Foreman said in his opening statement as the trial began last month. “The system is broken, and it must be fixed.”
Democratic attorneys scoffed at the GOP claims, saying they lacked the clear and convincing proof needed to justify overturning the election. The election errors that Republicans characterized as “sinister,” Democrats described as innocent mistakes that happen in every county, in every election.
'Not enough to show a mistake'
“It’s not enough to show a mistake, it’s not enough to show a bad mistake, and it’s not enough to show a really bad mistake,” Democratic attorney Jenny Durkan said in her closing argument last week. “In order to prove their case, they still have to show that Gov. Gregoire did not receive the highest number of legal votes.”
Rossi, a commercial real estate agent and former state senator, was considered a long shot against Gregoire, a three-term attorney general who was the anointed successor to Democratic Gov. Gary Locke. But Rossi’s promise of a fresh start in the state capital of Olympia left Gregoire struggling to define herself.
Rossi won the first count by 261 votes, then watched his lead shrink to 42 in a machine recount. In a hand recount of nearly 3 million ballots, Gregoire won by 129 votes. Her margin was the smallest in percentage terms of any governor’s race in the nation’s history. Five days before Gregoire’s inauguration, Rossi sued to contest the election.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.