If you can’t remember the details of the 2004 Washington state governor’s race, you shouldn’t feel bad. It was pretty complicated and had more twists and turns than a soap opera.
Democratic incumbent Governor Gary Locke chose not to seek a third term. In the November general election to pick his successor, Republican state Senator Dino Rossi was running against Washington
Attorney General Christine Gregoire.
On election night, the race was too close to call. The race would be disputed and remain undecided for more than a month.
As Washington’s secretary of state, Sam Reed’s job was to oversee elections. Reed told C-SPAN a few years ago about what happened.
“At the conclusion of the original count, Republican state Senator Dino Rossi was certified by me to be governor of the state of Washington by a margin of 260 votes. When you consider that’s out of 2.8 million, it was really unbelievable,” Reed said.
Because Rossi’s margin of victory was so small, it triggered a machine recount. All the ballots that were counted the first time around were put through the counting machines again. After this process, Rossi was still in the lead, and he was named governor-elect. But his margin had dropped to just 46 votes.
The Gregoire team then initiated a hand recount. A hand recount is just what it sounds like — the manual counting by humans of nearly 3 million ballots — and it takes a long time. There was disagreement over whether to include thousands of ballots that had been rejected, for one reason or another, and not counted the first two times around.
Gregoire wanted the disputed ballots counted. Rossi did not. Lawyers for both sides swung into action, battling it out in the State Supreme Court. The hand recount went ahead, and the court ruled in favor of the Gregoire campaign: The disputed ballots would be included.
“In the final analysis, the Democrat Christine Gregoire ended up winning the hand recount by 129 votes out of 2.8 million,” Reed said on C-SPAN. “That is 56 ten-thousandths of 1 percent.”
Gregoire was inaugurated Washington’s 22nd Governor in January 2005, and Washington voters moved on past the contentious election.
Four years later, Rossi challenged Gregoire again in the 2008 governor’s race. This time, Gregoire won by a wider margin, and with just a single count of the ballots.