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Judge sides with Dems in Wash. ballot dispute

Washington state Democratic Party volunteers are frantically calling voters whose provisional ballots are in disupte following a court decision to release the names.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democratic Party volunteers are frantically calling voters whose provisional ballots are in dispute, urging them to make sure their vote is counted in the state’s still-undecided governor’s race.

The volunteers went to work Friday night, after party officials successfully sued to get access to the names of 929 voters — all in heavily Democratic King County — whose ballots were questionable. They planned to keep working through the weekend.

Elections officials said there was no reason to release the names, because voters who cast provisional ballots know those ballots may need to be verified, and it’s up to each voter to contact the county and make sure the vote was counted. Provisional ballots are used primarily when a voter is not at his home precinct or if registration is in question.

King County Superior Court Judge Dean S. Lum said it would burden the county little to release the names, and that state law favors openness in government. “No right is more precious than the right to vote,” he said.

In tears after the ruling Friday, Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt said volunteers would work through the weekend to contact the voters.

“We’re up to it,” he said. “We’ve had hundreds of people volunteer to help.”

Rossi currently leading
Every vote is crucial in the state’s tight race for governor. Republican Dino Rossi was leading Democrat Christine Gregoire by about 2,000 votes Friday, with more than 50,000 still to be counted statewide.

Election results are scheduled to be certified Wednesday. The county deadline for voters to resolve problems with their ballots is 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The Democrats’ lawsuit was criticized by Republicans, who said it threatened to turn the close gubernatorial election into “another Florida.”

“Why was this not a problem a week ago when Gregoire was ahead?” asked Pat Herbold, chairman of the King County Republican Party. “It would be wonderful if Christine Gregoire would step up to the plate like John Kerry did, for the good of our state, and say, ’We accept the results.”’

Problem ballots
The county mails notices to voters when there are problems with absentee ballots — a missing signature or questions about registration, for example.

But those casting provisional ballots were required to call the county or get on its Web site to determine if their votes were in jeopardy. And the process was a lot more complicated for voters who failed to save the stub from their ballot envelope with the reference number needed for the county help-line and Web site.

The provisional ballots were questioned for three primary reasons: the signature did not match registration records, there was no record that the voter was registered, or the voter had already mailed in an absentee ballot.

The only voter named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, Aravind Swaminathan, went to the county offices Thursday and resolved the problem with his ballot, said county spokeswoman Bobbie Egan.

About 31,000 provisional ballots were cast in King County.

Statewide, counties estimated they have about 54,000 ballots left to count, mostly provisional ballots. Other counties already make lists of provisional voters available publicly.