Ever since last November's election, Republicans have worked to subvert Governor Christine Gregoire's legitimacy. To some extent, they had reason. After Gregoire squeezed out the narrowest of victories-her opponent, Dino Rossi, won the first two counts-there were real questions about whether the final vote tally was accurate, particularly given the loosely followed and sometimes contradictory election procedures across the state. As Sound Politics blogger (and Stranger columnist) Stefan Sharkansky has relentlessly hammered for months, there were irregularities in the vote tallying-he has focused on the Gregoire stronghold of King County, but the problems, to varying degrees, are statewide-significant enough to potentially overturn Gregoire's victory.

But Republicans have also pushed a much more contentious argument: that Democrats deliberately cheated, committing electoral fraud to steal the election for Gregoire. Sound Politics, for instance, memorably dubbed Gregoire "Governor Fraudoire." Right-wing talk-radio hosts have picked up the claim. State Republican Party Chair Chris Vance also leveled an allegation of fraud early in the recount battle, then dropped it under media criticism, only to revive it again in recent weeks.

Now we know why. During the first day of the election contest trial, held in Wenatchee, Republicans started off by putting the fraud allegation at the center of their case. Republican attorney Dale Foreman accused Democrats of stuffing ballot boxes in some heavily Democratic precincts, and of removing ballots in some favoring Rossi. If true, that alone would all but require Judge John Bridges to overturn the election, even if it only involved a handful of ballots.

But Republicans lack evidence. They can show irregularities. For instance, King County counted 875 more absentee ballots than it recorded receiving. But they have no smoking gun-an eyewitness to ballot stuffing, say-which prompted Bridges to rule on Monday afternoon that the Republican claims did not meet the legal definition of fraud.

Without a legal fraud claim, Republicans are stuck having to prove Rossi legitimately won the election outright. That won't be easy. As Bridges is indicating, alleging fraud in the court of public opinion is very different from alleging it in an actual courtroom. ■