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Seattle judge: Rossi can keep “prefers GOP”

Post by News Tribune Staff on Sep. 26, 2008 at 11:01 am with No Comments »
September 26, 2008 11:01 am

King County Superior Court Judge Richard Eadie ruled today that Dino Rossi can list his party preference as “prefers GOP” on the state ballot instead of Republican, according to The Associated Press.

The Democratic Party had challenged Rossi’s use of the abbreviation for Grand Old Party, saying some voters don’t know that’s a reference to the Republican Party. They claim Rossi, who’s challenging Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, is trying to distance himself from what they argue is an unpopular party.

Democratic Party attorney Kevin Hamilton told the judge today that voters have a right to a clear and correct ballot, the AP reported.

The lawyer for Secretary of State Sam Reed, Assistant Attorney General Jim Pharris, said there’s nothing incorrect about "prefers GOP."

Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy was keeping a close eye on the case. She told us Thursday that ballots are already being sent to military and overseas voters.

“It would be a tremendous hardship,” she said. “The cost would be astronomical.”

Her elections manager, Lori Augino, estimated it could cost $1 million to reprint the ballots.

McCarthy also said there’s no way she could meet the deadline set by law for sending ballots overseas if she had to reprint ballots, and that it could also prevent her from sending ballots to voters in the county on time (those go out Oct. 17).

I’m sure the parties and/or campaigns will have responses to the ruling. We’ll post them here.

Update: Click the “read more” button for responses.

Dino Rossi Campaign Response to Dismissal of Democratic Lawsuit

Redmond, WA – The Dino Rossi for Governor campaign released the following statement today in response to King County Superior Court Judge Richard Eadie’s decision to dismiss the Washington State Democratic Party’s frivolous lawsuit over the G.O.P. label.

"The judge made the right decision to dismiss this frivolous lawsuit, which was a desperate attempt by the incumbent to throw out military ballots and turn our election system into chaos," said Jill Strait, Rossi spokesperson. "If Christine Gregoire and the State Democratic Party were successful with their lawsuit, they would have disenfranchised the thousands of military voters whose ballots have already been mailed out. Counties have said that reprinting the ballots would not only cost millions, but they would be unable to meet deadlines for sending ballots overseas to military personnel.

"Newspaper editorial boards across the state have called this lawsuit ‘frivolous ,’ ‘silly ,’ and even ‘dopey .’ We couldn’t agree more. The two candidates participated in an important debate last night on issues such as the economy, the growing budget deficit and taxes. We suggest the incumbent finally focus her campaign on the real issues impacting our state instead of wasting taxpayer’s money and time with trivial lawsuits."

uling on GOP ballot designation

OLYMPIA – Secretary of State Sam Reed says he’s "relieved and delighted" that King County Superior Court has refused to halt the printing and use of General Election ballots that use "GOP" as gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi’s party preference.

"It’s full steam ahead to November, and voters, including our military and overseas voters, will be pleased that they don’t have to worry about getting their ballots and Voters’ Pamphlets on time," said Reed, the state’s chief elections officer.

Judge Richard Eadie, following a hearing on the challenge brought by Democratic Party attorneys, declined to require Reed to direct the state’s 39 counties to change all ballots to reflect the Democrats’ demand that Rossi be listed as preferring the Republican Party, rather than the "GOP" preference that Rossi indicated when he filed for office in early June. Rossi, the state Republicans, and the state Grange organization were allowed to intervene in the case. Reed was defended by the state attorney general.

"I am relieved and delighted that the court has rejected attempts to hamper or derail a smooth and efficient election, and to potentially imperil the voting rights of some of our military voters," Reed said. "Judge Eadie has properly declined to overturn months of careful preparation and administration of an election system that citizens created for themselves through initiative and have expressed such satisfaction with. By not requiring a candidate for governor to follow the opposition party’s wishes for how he designates his party preference, the court has acknowledged a central feature of the new Top 2 system: Candidates are free to file for office and express their party preference without government interference. Voters then pick their favorites and the two top vote-getters advance to the November General Election, regardless of party preference.

"This ruling again underscores that the new system is driven by and for the voters, not the political parties, and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

"We regret that the court challenge was lodged at such a late hour, months after the implementing rules were made public to the parties and everyone. An adverse ruling would have caused great hardship and unwarranted expense for the taxpayers of Washington. The election season really is under way. Some counties have already printed ballots and Voters’ Pamphlets and others are in the process and had feared that delay and change would make it impossible, or nearly so, to meet stringent deadlines. Our counties are struggling mightily to run efficient and cost-effective elections. I also worried that an adverse ruling could have led to challenge of some military ballots – the opposite of the great respect we want to show all of our military voters in this time of war and danger."

State Elections Director Nick Handy hailed the ruling. "The good news is for our military voters, who will be getting ballots on time. The election is under way and we’re relieved that the counties will be able to proceed," he said.

Reed, who had previously urged the parties to drop their continuing litigation over a voting system that was chosen by a landslide 60 percent vote of the people and upheld by a strong 7-2 decision of the Supreme Court, said a central feature of the new Top 2 Primary is allowing candidates to express their preference for any party, or to designate no preference at all, using up to 16 characters.

Some candidates used the `prefers GOP’ designation, while others used `prefers Republican.’ The rules of the election were written and publicized well before Filing Week in June and the Primary in August. They did not limit party-name choices, and indeed some candidates said they preferred such parties as "Salmon Yoga" or "Progressive Democrat" or other unofficial names, such as "R." It was the candidates’ call, not the government’s, Reed said.

The new primary is not for the purpose of choosing party nominees, but rather winnowing the field to two candidates for each office. The candidates self-describe their party preference, if any, and the voters their pick their favorite two to move on to the General Election.

The political parties first received notice on April 16 that the state would not limit candidates’ choices, other than forbidding use of profanity or implying or stating that the candidate was endorsed by a particular party.

More to chew on, this from the state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser:

Judge Denies Gregoire/Democrat Injunction

Gov. Gregoire’s Fingerprints Now Clearly On Lawsuit

Threat To Overseas Military Voters Explicitly Cited By Judge In Ruling

This morning King County Superior Court Judge Richard Eadie denied the request by Gov. Christine Gregoire and the State Democratic Party for an order directing Sam Reed to reprint ballots that currently list Dino Rossi as "Prefers G.O.P. Party".

Two very important points were driven home in Judge Eadie’s courtroom today:

Gregoire’s fingerprints are now all over the lawsuit

Gregoire’s attorney, Jenny Durkan, appeared in court today representing Gregoire in the lawsuit filed on the governor’s behalf. There’s no question now that this whole legal charade was orchestrated by the Gregoire campaign, and that she can’t hide behind the State Democratic Party any longer.

The only point Durkan attempted to make on the governor’s behalf was explicitly rejected by Judge Eadie. While speaking to reporters after the proceedings, Durkan alternated between teary indignation that anyone could question the governor’s motives, and scorched-earth rants against Dino Rossi and all Republicans.

Judge Eadie explicitly cited the issue of overseas military voters in his decision

Gregoire and her lieutenants can say all the nasty things they want about Luke Esser, Dino Rossi and all Republicans, but now they will have to attack Judge Eadie if they are uncomfortable with the truth that the Gregoire/Democratic Party lawsuit threatens to disenfranchise overseas military voters.

Thousands of ballots have already been mailed to overseas military voters, and at least 144 have already been returned, more than decided the governor’s race in 2004. Gregoire asked that those ballots be determined an "error" and State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz referred to them as "illegal ballots." When Republicans pointed out that such action would lead to disenfranchisement of overseas military voters, Gregoire and the State Democrats loudly denied this was their intent or that it could ever happen.

But Judge Eadie’s ruling proves otherwise. In ruling against Gregoire and the Democrats, Judge Eadie expressed concern about the "specter of two different ballots" in one election that would "invite challenge" of the election results — a challenge that could be filed by "any elector" (quoted materials directly from the judge’s oral ruling).

Let’s clear here. The judge is saying that if the Gregoire/Democrat lawsuit was successful, overseas military voters would be in peril of having their votes thrown out in a challenge that could me made by any of the roughly three million voters in the state.

Gregoire and the Democrats have tried to confuse the issue with heartfelt promises that they would never challenge overseas military ballots. But the judge made clear that such a challenge would not have to come from Gregoire or the Democrats. It could come from someone – wink, wink – who has nothing to do with the governor’s campaign. Any moveon.org liberal or community organizer would do.

Washington State Republican Party Chairman was present throughout today’s legal proceedings and offered the following comment afterwards:

"With this lawsuit Gov. Gregoire has been attempting to open the door for a challenge that will throw out overseas military ballots, while allowing someone else to do the dirty work of disenfranchising brave servicemen and women around the world," Esser said. "We’ re gratified that Judge Eadie recognized the threat posed by this lawsuit to overseas military voters, and delighted that all the men and women serving overseas in uniform today can rest assured that their votes will be counted."

Response from state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz:

WSDCC Statement on Court Challenge to Republican Dino Rossi’s Ballot Title

SEATTLE – In response to this morning’s court ruling, Washington State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz issued the following statement:

“In a narrow ruling, the court suggested our claim against Republican Dino Rossi’s deceptive ballot scheme did not justify an emergency order to stop the printing of ballots. It’s important to note that the judge acknowledged our substantive claim that Republican Dino Rossi’s use of the confusing and redundant “GOP Party” moniker on the ballot — contrary to every previous election in which he has participated as a ‘Republican’ — could very well engender voter confusion and make a substantial difference in the result of the election. While we were not able to secure an emergency TRO, we are thankful for our day in court, and will not be appealing today’s decision.

“Irrespective of today’s ruling, the data demonstrates beyond a doubt that voters are confused by Rossi’s scheme, as the meaning of "GOP" is not understood by a whopping 1 in 4 Washingtonians . Another recent data set suggests Rossi’s attempts to confuse voters may be having its desired effect, as Gov. Gregoire enjoys a 10-point advantage over "Republican" Rossi but only a 4-point advantage over a "GOP Party" Rossi. Private Democratic polling has resulted in similar findings.

“It is clear from the efforts of the Rossi campaign and the Washington State Republican Party that they see this confusing and deceptive ballot title as a strategic advantage, as evidenced by their presence in court today to protect their candidate from listing the word “Republican” next to his name. Indeed, the attorney representing Rossi and the WSRP in this case conceded as much in a brief filed recently. To quote Rossi’s attorney:

“One of the results of the “top two” primary is that candidates may now select variations on traditional ballot identifications for the Republican Party. Official Republican Party nominee Dino Rossi filed under the GOP name, a long-standing alternate abbreviation indicating affiliation with the Republican Party. Surveys by pollster Stuart Elway in the early summer indicated significant degrees of confusion, however, over the meaning of “GOP” among voters. See http://blog:seattletlmes.nwsource.com/davidpostmanl2008/06/301 . Even 18% of Republicans in the survey did not know that GOP meant “Republican.” See http://www.politickerwa.comlbryanbissell/1570/elway-poII-shows-grand-od-confusion. In the August primary for governor, two other candidates expressed a “preference” for the Republican Party even though they had not been nominated by the Party but received over 25,000 votes. See http://vote.wa.gov/Elections/WEI/Results.aspx?ElectionID=25&RaceID=13&JurisdictionTypeID=2. The margin in the last gubernatorial election’ was only 133 votes. The member mailing was intended, in part, to make certain that every Republican knew that Dino Rossi was the Republican nominee and the GOP meant Republican. Even if only a tiny fraction of Republicans were confused by I-872’s change in nomenclature, that could have an impact on the election results.

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