[Updated at bottom of article with an "explanation" from the WA state GOP chairman. This story gets more bizarre by the minute. Be sure to check the updates if you read this story earlier.]
"The Huckabee Presidential Campaign will be exploring all available legal options regarding the dubious final results for the state of Washington State Republican precinct caucuses," according to a statement posted today on their official campaign website.
It was 2:30am on the West Coast last night as we noticed CNN was reporting only 87% of precincts counted from Washington state's Republican Caucus yesterday. Just over 200 votes separated the leader John McCain from Mike Huckabee in a very close second, with Ron Paul coming in a very close third.
Throughout the day, according to Josh Marshall at TPM, Huckabee had been leading in the returns until very late, when McCain pulled just ahead of him by just a few votes.
"With 87% of the returns counted," writes Marshall, "the Washington state GOP, which runs the caucuses stopped releasing results. That left us and a lot of other news organizations in a bit of a quandary last night since it looked like McCain was going to pull it off. But as late as 1:30 AM on the east coast promised new results kept failing to materialize."
And then, in the middle of the night, the state GOP posted a press release declaring McCain the winner, even with some 13% of the votes still unreported, and just 242 votes --- out of 13,745 reported so far --- separating McCain from Huckabee who'd finished a "strong second" according to the GOP release.
"In other words," Huckabee campaign chair Ed Rollins says in their statement this morning, "more than one in eight Evergreen State Republicans have been disenfranchised by the actions of their own party."
"Now, I think it would be borderline for a media organization to declare one candidate a winner when the margin separating first and second was 1.8% with 13% of the results still uncounted," writes Marshall today. "But for the officials holding the election to declare the result on that basis is simply bizarre. But that's what they did."
Of course, none of that kept the always-responsible Reuters news service from declaring "McCain wins Washington state Republican contest" at 8:10am ET this morning.
This afternoon, the Huckabee camp is announcing they are prepared to go to court if necessary, as the candidate himself declared that "weird things" are going on in Washington while on NBC's Meet the Press.
At the same time, the results of the GOP Louisiana Primary, as announced by the state, are even closer than those so far released in Washington. Though because the election was held on wholly unverifiable electronic voting machines, everyone will simply have to settle for whatever numbers the faith-based systems reported to them, no matter how close the margin...
Promising their "lawyers will be on the ground in Washington State soon," and that the campaign is "prepared to go to court" and "prepared to take our case all the way to the Republican National Convention in September," Rollins notes (ironically, or otherwise) in the campaign's official statement...
"All Republicans should unite to demand an honest accounting of the votes, so that Republicans can have full confidence in the results, and full confidence in the eventual Republican nominee.
"Our cause is just. We must reemphasize the sacred American principle that all ballots be counted in a free, fair, and transparent manner."
This morning, on Meet the Press, Huckabee made it clear he was not yet ready to concede the state, alleging some "weird things" going on, and that they were "looking at some legal issues up there." Though host Tim Russert, little surprise, seemed less than interested, since he was already instructed by the party who had "won," and far be it from him to question anybody or anything.
From this morning's Meet the Press (video clip at right):
RUSSERT: But the party has declared it over.
HUCKABEE: They have, but there's some weird things...We're looking at some legal issues up there and we're not ready to concede that one until we understand how it's...
[RUSSERT INTERRUPTS TO DISCUSS TUESDAY'S RACE IN VIRGINIA...]
As of 2:15pm PT today (Sunday), the Washington GOP website lists only percentages, not vote tallies, which is therefore not quite as demonstrative of how close the race really is at this hour, with even current third place finisher Paul coming up just behind Huckabee...
CNN's graphic is a bit more helpful...
We're not clear on the precise rules for the state's GOP caucus, but if they're anything like the Democratic Caucuses also held there yesterday, caucus goers show up and fill out a form, in person, with their name and address, stating who it is they are supporting. The Democrats tally up the votes then and there in front of everyone and then call the results in to the county party, which, in turn, reports them up to the state party.
Given that the number of caucus goers on the Democratic side --- where counting was 96% reported by today --- seems to have exceeded Republican turnout by approximately 17% (almost 5,000 votes), it's quite odd that the GOP counting seems to have simply stopped at 87.2%.
On that note, the differences in turnout yesterday on the "D" and "R" sides may also be illustrative of what's going on in the country, if Washington, which had previously been nearly evenly divided --- the state's hotly contested 2004 gubernatorial race was ultimately decided by just over 100 votes --- is any indication.
With 96% of the returns reporting, according to CNN, some 32,000 caucus goers on the Democratic side gave Obama a clear 68% to 31% victory over Clinton in the Evergreen State.
Obama also reportedly won handily yesterday in Primaries held in both Nebraska and Louisiana, though, as we reported last night, his campaign had "submitted an urgent request for assistance to the Secretary of State" after "widespread reports from Democrats across Louisiana who reported that they were not allowed to vote because their party affiliation had been switched."
A campaign statement posted to his website just after 7pm ET last night declared that "Hundreds of Louisiana democrats went to the polls to vote in today’s presidential primary, and found that they were now on registration lists as Independent or Unaffiliated voters."
On the Republican side in Louisiana, with 100% of the precincts reporting, according to the state's website, the margin separating first place Huckabee from second place finisher McCain is even closer than the Washington State contest, at least according to percentages. Huckabee is shown with 43% to McCain's 42%, with just 2056 votes separating them.
We've yet to hear reports of registration problems with Republican voters in yesterday's Primary. But the day is young. And in the recent Republican Caucus in the state, held at the end of January, allegations of registration irregularities emerged, leading to a challenge of the results by the Paul campaign who alleged that "due to mistakes by the Louisiana GOP, hundreds of voters were forced to file provisional ballots, including nearly 500 that could change the outcome of the election."
Attempts to reach both the Louisiana Sec. of State's office, as well as the state Republican Party, for additional comment, were unsuccessful this afternoon.
As to the result numbers from yesterday's primary, as reported by the state of Louisiana, while McCain might be wise to contest such a narrow margin, they are derived from unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) push-button voting machines (similar to touch-screens) as made by Sequoia Voting Systems, which has had similar machines decertified in state after state. There is absolutely no way to verify that a single vote cast on any of them was recorded as the voter intended. So the election results in that state, even in a race as close as the one on the Republican side was, are 100% faith-based.
Sorry, John. You'll just have to take your slim loss on faith, since there's nothing to recount.
ARE YOU FRICKIN' KIDDING ME? UPDATE 9:49pm PT: Apparently, the head of WA state's Republican party just decided to stop counting votes from the GOP Caucus last night when he'd had enough and figured he could decide on his own who the winner would be. No need to waste more time and actually count the rest of the votes.
According to the Seattle Times' David Postman, state GOP Chair Luke Esser just made the call on his own, and claims today that he "would have done the exact same thing if Governor Huckabee had the same lead, and the same number of votes were outstanding."
“Maybe it would have been safer if I hadn't said anything. But it was an exciting and historic day for the state and I thought if I was confident about what the outcome would be I should share that with the people who had gone out to their caucuses.”
Seriously, that's what he said.
TPM's Josh Marshall adds these thoughts, along with a "Late Update":
I'm really not sure I've ever heard anything that ridiculous.
I still find it pretty hard to imagine these bozos would try something quite this brazen. And it may well be an electoral tempest in a teapot. But this one looks and quacks like a duck. So someone should give it a much closer look.
Late Update: It seems that Washington State GOP chair Luke Esser spent most of the day avoiding calls from the Huckabee campaign. And when he finally got back to them he told a lawyer for Huckabee's campaign that they'd probably count the rest of the votes some time next week. When the lawyer, Lauren Huckabee, the candidate's daughter-in-law, requested that a Huckabee lawyer be present when the remaining votes were counted, Esser hung up on her. Before the hang up, Huckabee also asked Esser about the DIY statistical analysis he did to conclude that he should call the race (Esser's expertise in statistics apparently stems from previous work as a state prosecutor and a sports writer). Was there an analysis of what precincts the remaining votes came from? According to Huck campaign manager Ed Rollins, Esser admitted that he didn't [know] which precincts the remaining votes came from.
Mind you this is the state that Republicans still point to when they wish to make the case about Democrats committing "voter fraud." They reference the state's razor thin 2004 Gubernatorial election where no fraud was ever found in the court case filed by the GOP up there, in no small part, because the GOP neither ever actually alleged fraud in their case, nor offered evidence for any...yet the phony folklore lives on.
As usual, the facts and the GOP's own behavior, as demonstrated by the state party's own outrageous behavior, tells the real story here.
UPDATE 2/11/08 8:55am PT: 93.3% of the votes now counted in the WA GOP Caucus, according to the WA GOP website which shows only a slight increase in Huck's percentage, though they still list no actual vote counts. Just percentages. CNN still shows the same 87% precincts reporting (with vote counts) that they did as of late Saturday night, with no update since then. No idea who, if anyone, was there during the GOP's additional counting. Will try to find out...
UPDATE 2/11/08 12:07pm PT: Wow! Get a load of this: Esser the Suppressor!
UPDATE 2/11/08 7:14pm PT: Seattle's NBC affiliate reports "inconsistencies" in votes as reported by Snohomish County. ALSO: Esser the Suppressor's ties to McCain's state campaign chairman. Details now here...