Washington calmly awaits new governor
November 16, 2004
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Two weeks after the election, Washington state still doesn’t have a new governor. And voters are weathering the suspense the way Seattle residents shrug off the rain.
“People in this part of the world tend to be rather pleasant. They expect people to be civil in the way they behave,” said Ken Hoover, a political scientist at Western Washington University. “New York, this isn’t. That’s why people like to live here.”
The vote-counting is still going on. As of Tuesday night, Republican real estate agent Dino Rossi led by just 19 votes out of 2.8 million cast. Rossi had 1,367,365 votes to Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire’s 1,367,346.
Across the state, about 6,000 votes remained to be counted. Of the four counties with the most votes outstanding, two favor Rossi and two Gregoire.
Democrats scored a victory on Tuesday when a judge rejected the state Republican Party’s attempt to stop King County from counting hundreds of provisional ballots. Party leaders sniped at one another, but even their bickering conveyed a sense of superiority to other, messier election dramas.
“We live in King County, not Broward County (Florida),” Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said. “Let’s count every vote.”
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While protests broke out in Florida after the 2000 presidential election, no angry mobs have stormed the county canvassing centers in Washington – not even slightly ticked-off mobs. People may be on the edge of their seats, but they are sitting quietly and politely.
“Washington voters have come to expect to wait for returns,” said Bobbie Egan, King County elections spokeswoman. “Counting absentee ballots just takes a long time.”
Glacially slow vote-counting goes with the territory in Washington politics.
In most states, mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day. Washington and Alaska, however, require only that ballots be postmarked by Election Day. With an estimated 60 percent of Washingtonians voting by mail, close races can drag on for weeks as absentee ballots trickle in to county offices.
The 2000 U.S. Senate race took several weeks of counting and recounting before Democrat Maria Cantwell was declared the winner over Republican incumbent Slade Gorton.
One veteran of the Gorton campaign is now Rossi’s spokeswoman.
“Boy, can I pick ’em,” Mary Lane said in an opinion piece she wrote about the highs and lows of a close Washington state election. “On the days when your boss is up or trending up, you’re ecstatic, thinking for sure he’s gonna win. On the bad days, well, you’re pretty much crushed. That’s not a recipe for healthy living.”
Today is the deadline to finish counting, so Washington should know who the next governor is by then. Unless, of course, there are recounts.
Under state law, a recount must be held if the final margin of victory is less than 2,000 votes. Six statewide vote recounts have been conducted since 1968, though none of them changed the outcome.
Gregoire was heavily favored going into the race. If Rossi continues trending upward, he could pull off a huge political upset and become Washington’s first Republican governor in 20 years.