News

Legal fight ends with Gregoire still governor, scolding for King County

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

As part of his decision Monday against the state Republican Party that led to an end of courtroom wrangling over last year’s race for governor, Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges lectured King County’s election department for poor management.

Bridges ruled in favor of the state Democrats and that Republicans didn’t prove in their lawsuit that there was fraud in the November gubernatorial election, or that their candidate, Dino Rossi, would have won if ballots from felons and the deceased were subtracted from Governor Christine Gregoire’s slim win.

Rossi announced afterward that the ruling won’t be appealed to the state Supreme Court, ending a six-month effort to overturn Gregoire’s election. The Republicans wanted another election in the hope Rossi would win.

The King County elections department and its director, Dean Logan, have been at the center of the contested election and the court case in Wenatchee. During the case, it was revealed that two King County election workers used bogus numbers to show all ballots had been accounted for following the November voting.

In addition, several employees were placed on paid administrative leave after several ballots were discovered uncounted and still in their envelopes months after the election statewide was certified by the secretary of state.

The county department is currently under the scrutiny of several reviews, both internal and external.

“I am cognizant of Judge Bridge’s comments with regard to King County elections and assure both him and the public we can and will do better,” Logan said.

The department will take the next three months to address “decades-old elections problems which have plagued this organization,” he said.

Logan was hired nearly two years ago to run the department after a series of errors mailing absentee ballots resulted in his successor resigning and the then-election supervisor being sacked.

Logan’s continued employment has also been called into question, and several County Council members –– including Pete von Reichbauer, whose district includes Federal Way and other south King County areas –– have suggested that Logan resign.

County Executive Ron Sims, Logan’s boss, has remained supportive of the records and elections director he appointed.

Lloyd Jansen, a political science professor at Green River Community College, said Bridges’ decision seemed thorough and might make the Republicans think hard about appealing.

Bridges was noted during the trial for accepting a lot of information as evidence because he was sure the loser of the decision would immediately appeal to the state Supreme Court, the highest in Washington. The judge’s reasoning was that the higher court should have all the information to render its decision.

Jansen, who had been following the election and court case closely, said he wasn’t sure who would come away the winner in court. He noted the Republicans had a reasonable case that the public didn’t know the true result.

However, proving it was due to fraud was the weak leg of the argument, he added.

Whether or not the Republicans chose to take the case to the high court in Olympia, Jansen believes one way the case has impacted the state is by polarizing it further politically.

“That’s unfortunate,” he said. “We should be able to have civil conversations, and I think maybe they are getting harder to have.”

County Councilman David Irons, a Republican who is running against Democrat Sims in the race for county executive this fall, said Bridges was justified in “putting the blame for this election disaster” on the problems in the county elections department.

Councilman Larry Phillips, a Democrat, said Bridges’ ruling proved that the Republicans’ lawsuit was a partisan “smear campaign” to discredit the county’s election system and undermine Sims’ re-election chances.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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