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Reversal of fortune



Published: Mon, January 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: A candidate should know he has reached the end of the line when, on the losing end of a razor-thin electoral margin, he starts calling for a do-over. Since Election Day, Washington state has seen a contested gubernatorial election that makes the 2000 presidential contest in Florida look like a blowout. The initial count had Republican Dino Rossi leading by 261 votes out of nearly 3 million cast. A statutorily required machine recount dropped that margin to only 42 votes. More recently, a full hand recount requested by the Democrats put their candidate, state Attorney General Christine Gregoire, on top by 129 votes. This resulted in her being certified Thursday as the election's winner by Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed, who has served as an unusually honest broker for a partisan official supervising a high-stakes election dispute. Rossi, however, is not through. He is calling for a new election. "A revote," he wrote in an open letter to Gregoire, "would be the best solution for the people of our state, and would give us a legitimate governorship."

Not a game

Such an idea may work to resolve a close play in a schoolyard baseball game, but it's not the way Americans resolve electoral disputes. An election this close can never produce a result that is fully satisfying from a democratic standpoint; the margin of victory is so eclipsed by the margin of error in the count that it is simply impossible to know with confidence which side received more support. And Washington's recount process, to be sure, contained glitches and errors and legitimate arguments about which votes should count under state law. With the margin so thin, the resolution of such questions -- always somewhat arbitrary -- takes on immense significance. Still, as the secretary of state said, there is no evidence of fraud or intentional manipulation of the count in either side's favor. Under such circumstances, the certified results, doubt and all, constitute the most democratically legitimate outcome available.

Rossi retains the right to contest the result of the election in court, a process that -- as he notes in his letter -- could drag on for months. But a revote is obviously not an option. Rossi was not proposing it when he was ahead, nor was he arguing then that the election was hopelessly flawed. Rather, he was crying foul at Democratic requests for recounts clearly contemplated by state law. But even had his position been consistent, Washington is not Ukraine and Gregoire is no Viktor Yanukovych -- the Ukrainian prime minister whose initial victory was evidently procured by fraud. If Rossi cannot make a compelling argument under the current rules that the final result should not stand, he should refrain from trying to change those rules after state voters, however inarticulately, have spoken.




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