SEATTLE, Dec. 3 -- A month and a day after voters went to the polls, the closest governor's race in Washington state history -- and one of the nation's closest-ever statewide contests -- lurched forward Friday, as state Democrats announced they had raised enough money to start a third count, this one by hand, of nearly 3 million ballots.
The statewide hand recount is expected to take about two weeks and seems certain to trigger court challenges from both Democrats and Republicans. The Democratic Party said Friday that it will ask the state Supreme Court to rule that all ballots be counted under uniform rules from county to county.
"We are going to count every vote in every county," said Paul Berendt, chairman of the state Democratic Party.
After the second count, Republican Dino Rossi led Democratic Christine Gregoire by 42 votes.
The phenomenally tight election appears to have motivated national Democratic Party leaders -- stung by criticism of Al Gore's concession in 2000 and Sen. John F. Kerry's concession last month -- to make sure that the party does not look weak-kneed when there is a legal avenue for reversing an election's outcome.
The $730,000 down payment that will start a statewide recount came from cash left over in Kerry's presidential campaign, from the Democratic National Committee, and, in the past two days, from 15,000 smaller donations, many of them from individuals reached by Democracy for America, an organization created by Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who sought the Democratic presidential nomination this year.
"I am grateful and humbled by the outpouring of support for a hand count of every vote," Gregoire said after learning her party had raised the money. "With the election too close to call, a hand count will finally determine the winner."
The first machine vote count showed Rossi, 57, a self-made businessman and former state senator who ran a strong campaign in this Democratic-leaning state, ahead by 261 votes over Gregoire, 45, whose three terms as attorney general had made her well known across the state and who had been widely expected to win.
The second machine count, which was mandatory under state law, whittled Rossi's winning margin to just 0.0015 percent. By comparison, George W. Bush's 539-vote victory over Gore in Florida in 2000 -- a margin of 0.0091 percent -- was robust.
When Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, this week certified Rossi as governor-elect -- a certification that by law allowed the hand-count challenge announced here Friday -- he said the governor's election was uniquely tight: "We have checked with experts around the nation, and nowhere has there ever been an election of this magnitude that is this close."
Exactly which ballots will be recounted by hand is in dispute.
This week the Democratic Party sent a letter to Reed asking that all ballots, including those disqualified in previous counts by county canvassing boards, be included in the recount. Reed has said that only votes counted in the first recount should be counted again.
According to Gregoire, state law allowing for a hand recount -- to be supervised by observers from both parties -- was designed for just this kind of cliffhanger election. Initially, Democrats wanted to only recount strongly Democratic King County, which includes Seattle, but Gregoire said it should be statewide.
"My request of the state Democratic Party is simple: Count the entire state or don't count at all," Gregoire said Thursday, when the state Democratic Party was about $100,000 short of what it needed for a down payment on the statewide recount.
If the recount reverses the outcome, which many Democratic Party leaders believe is likely, the state will pay for it and Democrats will get their money back. The total cost of a recount is expected to be about $1.5 million.
Rossi, who returned this week from a Caribbean vacation to be certified as the governor-elect, told reporters on Tuesday that he is "tanned, rested and ready to turn the state of Washington around." He held a victory party that night.
Rossi's campaign and the state Republican Party leaders have been saying for weeks that Gregoire should concede the election, for the good of the state and so Rossi can get on with the preparatory work.
But when reporters asked Rossi this week whether he would have demanded a hand recount -- if he were behind by 42 votes -- he sidestepped the question.
His campaign spokesman has said that Rossi will "explore all our options" in the courts if he loses the hand count.