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Washington's Election Ordeal is Over

This just in…the gubernatorial election in Washington is over. On Monday, Chelan County Superior Court Judge John E. Bridges ruled against Republican candidate Dino Rossi’s assertions that there was enough evidence of fraud and error in a few urban counties to require a new election. Rossi’s task was immense, as the burden of proof was onerous. He needed to show substantial evidence of fraud and error, and also that the fraud and error was determinative in Democratic candidate Christine Gregoire’s victory of a mere 129 votes. Despite sworn admissions from King County elections officials that felons’ votes were counted and absentee ballots were handled with "significant errors" for the benefit of Gregoire, the judge did not feel the burden of proof had been met. Yesterday, Rossi announced that he will not appeal the decision and the ordeal came to a close.

This saga has run since November without the national coverage it should have garnered. At the core of this story of institutional shortcomings, voter apathy and political opportunism is the disquieting sense that Washington in 2004 was no different than Florida in 2000,and also that there is no real difference between those places and any other state.

In line with a longstanding Democratic philosophy, King County responded to the election fiasco by hurling other people’s money at the problem, proposing a $22 million election center and more election workers. Bridges was unimpressed. "Clearly," he said, "the problems require more than just constructing new buildings and hiring more staff." To his credit, he declined to publicly spank individual King County election officials or scold the Democratic party. However, his rebuke and critique of government culture is sobering. "Almost anyone who works in state and local government knows exactly what this culture is," Bridges said. "It's inertia. It's selfishness. It's taking our paycheck but not doing the work. It's not caring about either our fellow workers or the public we're supposed to serve. It's not taking responsibility. It's refusing to be held accountable.”

"[I]t is the voters who should send a message," Bridges said, and he is right. These irregularities and mistakes invite exploitation. Indeed, the core argument in many Florida counties in 2000 and Washington counties in 2004 is the same: low-level election officials with partisan ties born of careerism and cronyism are able to keep counting and recounting until they get the result they want. They are vulnerable to threats and pandering. And there are no protocols in place to curb their power and the ambition, avarice and/or hostility that is fired by that sudden and fleeting power. The electoral process, so central to our national identity and so vital to a functioning government, is in serious jeopardy. And the only force that can correct the problem is the collective will of the very people who have been lazy for generations and whose tenuous grip on their elected officials is slipping with each passing election.


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Comments (2)

Right on all counts. To hear the MSM, the only voting irregularities in this country come from the evil Republicans keeping blacks from voting, putting twice as many machines in white counties, and making people wait in line for 8 hours to vote. After all, we know Bush didn't really win Ohio in 2004!

This whole Washington story is scandalous. Here in Minnesota where you're allowed to register on election day, the potential for voter fraud is enormous. I've never been asked for my ID in a precinct where I've voted before. Last year we voted in a new city, and although we registered and voted here, there would have been nothing to prevent us from going back to our old neighborhood to vote. The election judges would have recognized us; they'd have waived us straight through.

Talk about "threats to democracy" is cheap nowadays, but our whole system is based on free and honest voting, and once the integrity of this is threatened (the judiciary already negates the will of the voters too often), what will we be left with?


Indeed. I find it all very spooky. Its sinister that the policies making it easy to vote were authored by liberals who are confident that they can lure the poor into the voting booths with their sentimental platitudes, and then that state and local government is dominated by liberals. It invites fraud.

I see no quick fix. It will take a fundamental shift in attitudes to tighten up the process. I have no real ideas to contribute, but it is disturbing that even after 2000, even after scadals in Wisconsin, Ohio and Washington, no one is really talking about it.

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