In his November 29 Wall Street Journal op-ed column titled "Florida Northwest: Will Democrats steal the Washington governorship?" columnist and author John Fund claimed Democrats have benefited from "creative counting" of votes by King County, Washington election officials in a recount of ballots cast in the disputed state gubernatorial race between Republican former state senator Dino Rossi and Democratic former state attorney general Christine Gregoire. But according to Washington's Republican secretary of state and other state election officials, nothing illegal or unethical has taken place.
Fund accused Democrats of benefiting from "creative counting" of rejected King County ballots, but what he deems "creative counting" was in fact part of a legitimate recount process. After all absentee and provisional ballots were accounted for, Rossi's lead over Gregoire was cut from 1,920 votes to 261 votes; the narrow margin necessitated a recount under state election laws. As part of the recount, officials examined 700 King County ballots that optical scanning machines had not registered in the initial count, hoping to determine voter intent. Rossi's lead then dwindled to 42 votes. According to a November 22 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, these "undervoted" ballots were not initially counted because "the optical-scan machine didn't register a choice for governor because the voter only partially filled in the oval next to the name of [sic] candidate, just put a checkmark there or circled the candidate's name instead of filling in the oval." Election officials examined these ballots, enhanced the vote when voter intent was clear or duplicated the damaged ballot, and then ran the ballots through the optical scan machine again so the vote would count. Fund referred to this process as "creative counting," writing:
More than 700 previously uncounted ballots were added to the county's total after election officials "enhanced" them to better divine voter intent. When optical scan machines didn't accept ballots, workers would fill in ovals on ballots or create duplicate ballots if they felt the voter had meant to register a choice. Hanging chads, meet empty ovals. Through this process, Ms. Gregoire gained 245 votes in King County, dwarfing the shifts to either candidate in any other county.
Such creative counting brought Mr. Rossi's lead down to 42 votes, a critical threshold to justify further recounts and litigation.
The Washington state Republican Party filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the King County recount. According to a November 22 Seattle Times article, state Republicans "alleged that King County election workers were attempting to determine voter intent, even where ballots were unclear." The same article reported that a U.S. district judge ruled that the King County recount would not be halted, as the ballots were not being damaged or destroyed and would be available for review afterward. The judge scheduled a November 30 hearing on the suit.
But state election officials from both parties have refuted the Republican allegations of wrongdoing. A November 21 Seattle Times article quoted Tom Ahearne, an attorney for the office of Washington's Republican secretary of state, Sam Reed, as saying: "The Secretary of State's Office believes the counting is being done fairly, impartially and accurately."
Moreover, a November 23 Seattle Times article quoted Washington state election director Nick Handy as saying that he "hasn't seen anything wrong with how King County or other counties are handling ballots."
According to a November 30 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, Secretary of State Reed planned to certify Rossi as governor-elect on November 30. The article noted that state Democrats would have until December 3 to demand a manual recount.
Fund writes a weekly Wall Street Journal column titled "John Fund on the Trail." He wrote the book Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Democracy (Encounter Books, September 2004), which, as Media Matters for America has documented, is riddled with inaccuracies.