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Gregoire gains 4 in county

When the margin is .0015 percent, four votes make a difference. That is exactly how many votes Democrat Christine Gregoire gained over Republican Dino Rossi after Island County finished the second recount.

The Island County Canvassing Board certified the county’s results Monday morning. The total turnout climbed by six votes to 39,076. Gregoire gained seven votes and Rossi gained three.

With 24 counties reporting, Gregoire had lost ground to Rossi. Rossi has gained 190 votes and Gregoire has gained 144.

Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair said she was not clear on where the extra votes came from, but guessed it was from machine error. The same with the four-vote difference, she said.

“We didn’t make them up here, I promise,” she said.

Island County Democrats Chair Grethe Cammermeyer said if each of the 26 counties Gregoire lead in found four more votes, that would be more than enough to surpass Rossi.

“If we end up having an honest election where people’s votes are counted, then that’s one we can live with,” she said. “To bemoan the fact that there’s a second recount does a disservice to the process.”

Cammermeyer said the second recount was necessary because mistakes were being made during the first, machine recount.

“If I were a Republican and my candidate was 42 votes behind and that was an option, I would definitely want to,” Cammermeyer said.

Island County Republican Chair Andy Valrosa said that the hand recount might not be necessary in the future.

“(This recount) was necessary because the law allows for it, but if Gregoire didn’t want to put the state through it, then it was unnecessary,” he said.

This is the first time in state history that a hand recount has been requested.

Teams of two, with two observers each, began processing ballots Thursday morning and finished Monday, Sinclair said.

“We’ve never done this before, so it’s hard to know how fast people can count,” she said.

Boxes containing some of the 39,070 ballots appeared around 8 a.m. for teams of two counters. Seals were compared and ballots distributed by precinct. Counters separated the ballots into five separate piles: Gregoire, Rossi, Libertarian Ruth Bennett, those with no vote and those “overvotes” with more than one person picked. Overvotes are thrown out, Sinclair said.

“We can’t count those because obviously you can’t discern the voter’s intent,” she said.

Other ballots had already been taken out because the signatures did not match the ones on file or they were postmarked after election day. Some people who cast a ballot had yet to register, Sinclair said.

Observers, one Democrat and one Republican, kept a firm eye as the ballots fluttered about, landing in their respective pile. Then it was time to count. Each counter tallied the votes once, and if the totals match, that precinct is finished.

Each person was looking for some anomaly, a hanging chad, a dimpled chad or any other type of chad that could be contested. One such ballot was found. A voter had tried to punch out their vote, but only half succeeded, resulting in that ballot facing trial in front of Island County’s canvassing board.

“Our goal is to make it like watching grass grow,” Sinclair said. “And, it appears that we are doing that. We haven’t had anything bizarre happen.”

The Island County Canvassing Board met Friday to analyze the questionable ballots. Sinclair said two types of ballots were questioned; those the counters could not decide who the vote was for and those the observers had an issue with. All told, 23 ballots went to the board.

“Most of them really didn’t have a vote on them,” Sinclair said. “There were some that had a vote for Gregoire and some that had a vote for Rossi.”

A Washington Supreme Court case heard Monday would have little or no impact on Island County’s results, Sinclair said. Only one or two ballots could be effected by the case, she said.

Observers were impressed by the efficacy with which the elections staff was handling the recount. Seattle attorney Becky Roe, who was representing the Democrats, said she was leaving early because she was not needed.

“It looks like their doing a great job,” she said. “A lot of it is coming to get clear in my mind what they’re doing.”

Democrats called for the hand recount after Gregoire gained ground on Rossi after a machine recount at the end of November. Rossi gained four votes in Island County. Sinclair said she will be keeping an eye out for significant changes in vote totals, but problems other counties have faced will be avoided here.

“Certainly we’ll be looking at the results for anomalies or any big differences,” she said.

The Democrats were able to call for the recount after giving a $730,000 deposit to cover the cost of the recount. At 25 cents per vote, the recount should cost approximately $9,700 in Island County. If the results swing in favor of Gregoire, the county must foot the bill.

“It’s pretty late in the year, so it’s a find situation,” Sinclair said.

In an effort to smooth any future recounts, the county will have a different voting system in place before Jan. 1, 2006.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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