'Florida' in Washington State

A voting debacle that can best be described as a "mini Florida" has been playing out in Washington State, where last week Democratic candidate Christine Gregoire was certified as governor elect with a margin of only 129 votes.

The state, which mirrors the nation's recent challenges with close and disputed elections, has held its breath three times since Nov. 2.

First, Republican candidate Dino Rossi was declared the winner. But his margin was so close - 261 votes out of nearly 3 million cast - that it triggered an automatic machine recount. He came out on top again, but this time by only 42 votes, so the Democrats (within their rights) called for a recount by hand. That put Ms. Gregoire narrowly ahead. Mr. Rossi has refused to concede, citing inconsistency in the hand recount. Last week he called for another election.

To do that, he would have to ask the legislature for a revote. That course of action would be a mistake. State law does not specifically provide for a revote. Rossi argues that going to the legislature for a revote is less time consuming than a court battle, which according to state law, would be the next step in the process.

Bringing a state's citizenry to the polls a second time is also a serious and expensive matter. And Washington's secretary of state, Republican Sam Reed, has certified the hand recount, and found no fraud.

Still, Rossi may well have a case about counting inconsistency. He objects to the fact that the state Supreme Court allowed one Democratic county to include over 700 erroneously excluded ballots in the hand recount, but other counties did not look at discarded ballots.

As Rossi considers what to do, he needs to keep in mind that, above all, it's the integrity of the voting system that matters most, not who wins or loses. That's why, if he wants to pursue his case, he should follow the designated process, and seek redress in the courts. If the state Supreme Court orders a revote, that's another matter.

There's also the political context. Last week, the state's county canvassing boards rejected GOP calls to reconsider excluded ballots. The boards seem confident in their hand recount, as does the GOP secretary of state. The state's election apparatus, it appears, lacks the will for a fight.

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