WENATCHEE, Wash. -- The judge hearing a challenge to Washington state's 2004 gubernatorial election agreed yesterday to let Republicans introduce evidence that Democratic-leaning King County recorded several hundred more votes than it could account for.
Republicans allege that errors and possible fraud in the county, which includes Seattle, helped Democrats steal the election for Christine Gregoire, who beat Republican Dino Rossi by 129 votes out of 2.9 million cast.
''The evidence is overwhelming that there was unbelievable neglect in King County and, we believe, outright fraud by high-ranking King County officials," Republican Party attorney Dale Foreman said Monday.
Democrats had tried to block the GOP evidence, saying Republicans had brought up the issue too late and with no evidence to back up their allegations.
Chelan County Superior Court Judge John E. Bridges said yesterday he didn't believe the Republican alegation was new. However, the judge added: ''The court is not in a position at this time to determine that these are illegal votes."
Election officials say it's normal for the number of ballots cast in an election to be greater than the number of people credited with voting. Among other reasons, some voters forget to sign in when they cast their ballots, and under federal rules, some military ballots can be cast by voters not registered in the county.
Rossi filed the election challenge after winning the first two counts, only to lose to Gregoire in a final, hand recount by 129 votes. On Monday, Gregoire's office said she was too busy to follow the trial. Rossi's campaign office said he watched it on television. Neither plans to attend the trial.
Before Monday's opening arguments, Republicans had largely complained of bungling rather than outright fraud on the part of election officials.
''There is no question who won this election," Democratic attorney Kevin Hamilton said in his opening statement, adding that the GOP is presenting ''a loose collection of administrative errors."
''Imperfection is not enough to overturn an election," he said.
In his opening statement, Foreman said the Democrats rigged the election by stuffing ballot boxes in Gregoire's two strongest precincts and by ''losing" votes in two of Rossi's strongest precincts.
The findings in King County show ''partisan bias and not random error," Foreman said.
In Monday testimony, Republicans read a deposition from GOP Secretary of State Sam Reed, who described ''very deep problems" in the King County elections division.