Full transcript of judge's ruling against Dino Rossi's case.
On Monday morning, after six months of Republican posturing that an evil liberal cabal in King County had stolen the gubernatorial election, stubborn GOP candidate Dino Rossi got his comeuppance. Let's not mince words: Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges methodically destroyed the Republican case in his hour-long recitation from the bench, unraveling months of spin and dismissing as meritless the wild charges of fraud from Rossi lawyers. By the time Bridges finished, Rossi's hopes of overturning the election were over. His defeat was so total that at a Monday evening press conference, despite previous promises to appeal an unfavorable ruling to the state supreme court, Rossi threw in the towel.
Governor Christine Gregoire cried tears of joy and relief. Democratic U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell might have privately squeezed out a tear or two as well. As Rossi pursued his legal challenge to Gregoire's razor-thin 129-vote victory, he claimed he has no interest in challenging the vulnerable first-term senator, who is up for reelection in 2006. But if he does, Cantwell could be in trouble: A recent poll showed her trailing Rossi by close to double digits in a head-to-head matchup.
Whatever the future holds, Monday's decision was a huge win for the Democrats. By any objective measure, the rout was near total. The Republicans had begun the nine-day trial by alleging fraud in King County-including ballot-stuffing in pro-Gregoire precincts, and disappearing ballots in pro-Rossi ones-on the basis of a tendentious statistical analysis unsupported by any direct evidence. Bridges wasn't buying. "There is no evidence that ballots were changed, the ballot box stuffed, or that lawful votes were removed from either candidate's ballot box," he said, adding: "During the 2004 general election, the polling sites across the State were populated by inspectors, judges, observers, attorneys, and the media. No testimony has been placed before the court to suggest fraud or intentional misconduct."
He also made it clear that Republicans had not produced a shred of evidence to meet the basic legal standard in the case: They were supposed to prove that Rossi had actually won. He then dismissed as junk science the other key claim by Republicans-that illegal votes, mostly by felons, should be deducted from each candidate according to the percentage of the vote they received in the precinct in which the votes were cast. And he said that even if he had accepted the Republicans' proportional-deduction idea, Gregoire would still have won the election.
Bridges seemed to go out of his way to take a shot at the Republican case. To overturn the election on the basis of the Republican theories would be "the ultimate act of judicial egotism or judicial activism," he asserted.
Republicans decried the ruling, saying the standard set by Bridges-that Republicans had to prove that the illegal votes cast actually resulted in Gregoire's victory-was a misreading of the law. "It's an absurd standard," said Washington State Republican Party Chair Chris Vance. "It's impossible. It can't be done."
Well, it certainly can't be done when you don't have any evidence, the Democrats pointed out. Indeed, Democrats were thrilled with the outcome. "The Republicans got nothing. They got a black eye," said Democratic political consultant Christian Sinderman, who worked on Gregoire's campaign.
Bridges did have some sharp words for King County, though. He decried the lackadaisical culture of the department, which has long been a problem: "The voters of this state are in a position to demand of their executive and legislative bodies that remedial measures be instituted immediately," he said. On the other hand, he exonerated King County officials of engaging in "partisan bias." He pointed out that election errors were statewide, and said, "Specifically with reference to King County, there is no evidence that the significant errors which occurred resulted from intentional misconduct or someone's desire to manipulate the election."
At his press conference, Rossi did not rule out the possibility of rejoining the political fray. But by pursuing such a weak case, Democrats hope Rossi has damaged his public standing. As Sinderman put it, "his credibility has taken a huge hit. A lot of the luster is off now." ■