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Originally published Thursday, December 23, 2004 at 12:00 AM

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Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Deep divisions that go beyond mishandled ballots

Years from now, the incredibly close governor's race of 2004 will be remembered as an extra rivet in the Cascade Curtain. By now, we all know the story: In three counts of a governor's...

Years from now, the incredibly close governor's race of 2004 will be remembered as an extra rivet in the Cascade Curtain.

By now, we all know the story: In three counts of a governor's race that seems to have no end, several counties discovered new votes. But when King County located mistakenly rejected ballots, it seemed to exacerbate existing divisions in our state — another episode in the saga of King County versus the rest of Washington.

We shouldn't let this be.

The state Supreme Court ruled yesterday valid ballots should be counted. And every election official I spoke with this week in counties across the state said they too would count ballots rejected due to the county's failure to compare signatures on absentees with signatures in a paper file.

Auditors represent voters and voters want ballots counted. Duh!

Venom directed at King County goes beyond vote-counting or even this election. It is about old stereotypes of dilettante environmentalists who would tear down Eastern Washington dams and city slackers whose votes are somehow less valuable than everyone else's. It's also about class, the richest county against the others, and about culture, our own red-blue divide.

Railing against election workers in King County has become a daily pastime. State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance goes from zero to fraud in 60 seconds. But there is no evidence of fraud.

Election officials have kept their heads level and worked in a nonpartisan manner. The party chairmen, however, Vance and Democratic counterpart Paul Berendt, have doled out an overload of hyperbole and gasbaggery, if that is a real word. (And if it is not, it should be.)

Vance accuses King County election workers of fraud or incompetence. Berendt calls Republican Gov.-elect Dino Rossi a thief trying to steal the election.

Down, boys. Washington has an election to settle and voters deserve more light than heat.

What has been striking the past few weeks is the shock and awe surrounding King County's vote tallying — in sharp contrast to the reaction in other counties.

Snohomish County located 224 previously uncounted ballots during the machine recount. The reaction? Silence. Whatcom County found seven provisional ballots in a stack after the machine recount, and counted them. The reaction? Silence. Kittitas County in Eastern Washington located 34 ballots during the first recount. Silence.

Granted, King County has had election troubles in recent years and all problems have not yet been solved. But the county also is a convenient target for public frustration.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said: "Living next to the U.S. is like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how even-tempered the beast, one must be aware of its every twitch and grunt." Ditto for King County.

Other parts of the state sometimes legitimately feel the Legislature bends over backward to build Seattle and King County everything they want, neglecting deserving projects in their counties.

The chasm is a constant facing every governor and Legislature. If Spokane, for example, had a better job base, more like it once had, residents of Spokane County might not feel so antagonistic toward King County.

Understanding that does not mean Dean Logan, King County elections director, is not doing a thorough, professional job. He is. He is trying to count all valid votes and all but offered his resignation during the latest dust-up. County Executive Ron Sims correctly wouldn't entertain the idea.

Democrat Berendt doesn't help when he accuses Rossi of trying to steal the election. Turn the rhetoric down a click or two. Many things already divide King County from the rest of the state. We don't need more ammo.

I have always been uncomfortable when people divide the state into urban and rural, east and west. Four years ago, Republican Sen. Slade Gorton ran against Seattle in his race against Maria Cantwell. Republican insiders now concede he lost because of it.

Most non-Seattle residents don't hate the city. They spend time here and feel connected in different ways. They might be Mariner or Seahawk fans or arts enthusiasts or have family in red and blue locales.

It is nonsense to say any county's votes are more or less valuable than another's, said Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn. She says all auditors want to correct administrative mistakes.

The trouble is, the public picks up on the bashing and loses faith in the election process.

Washington has entered a Twilight Zone of elections. Everything feels a little spacey and weird. Partisan hired guns have come in and made things worse.

All the heat will make it harder for either Dino Rossi or Christine Gregoire to govern. Artificially trumpeting our differences is a disservice to the entire state. Trashy behavior during the 2004 election could reverberate a very long time.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is Look for more of her thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at

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