The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

AG race officially headed for recount; A1

McDonnell certified as winner, but Deeds requests second tabulation

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

It’s official. The race to be the next attorney general of Virginia is headed to a recount.

State election officials certified a 323-vote victory for Republican candidate Del. Bob McDonnell of Virginia Beach on Monday out of more than 1.9 million ballots cast, but Democratic candidate state Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County immediately announced that he would seek a second tabulation.

The results are just too close to let go without a second look, Deeds said in an e-mail to the media after the board’s action.

“I will petition the Richmond City Circuit Court tomorrow morning for the first and final recount of the votes,” he said. “It is the right thing to do to make sure every vote is fairly and accurately counted, so the votes of the people of Virginia will ultimately decide the outcome of this election.”

Virginia law, unlike Florida’s now infamous recount statutes, doesn’t allow for a “hand recount.” Instead, a “recount court” made up of the chief judge of the Richmond Circuit Court and two other judges to be appointed by the state’s chief justice will set a date and procedures for the recount.

At the local level, each city and county will have two “recount coordinators,” a Republican and Democratic member of the local electoral board, who will oversee the recount, a new tally from scratch of each voting machine and absentee ballot cast in the election.

Both men have assembled teams of lawyers to argue on their behalf in front of the recount court. Gov.-elect Tim Kaine lent his name to Deeds’ legal effort, asking Democrats to donate to the recount effort in an e-mail sent Monday.

“For my good friend and running mate, Creigh Deeds, who ran for Attorney General, today is not the end but rather just the beginning,” Kaine said. “Since the night of November 8th it has been clear that the outcome of Creigh’s race would not be resolved easily. But the momentum is clearly in Creigh’s favor.”

McDonnell told reporters on a conference call that his transition efforts would continue unabated.

Members of the State Board of Elections certified the final results at a meeting in Richmond on Monday afternoon. As of now, the tally stands at 970,886 for McDonnell, 970,563 for Deeds, or 49.96 percent to 49.95 percent.

The difference of 323 votes represent a margin of fewer than three votes in each of Virginia’s 134 county-level jurisdictions.
Initial tallies saw McDonnell with a lead of about 2,500 votes, but Deeds netted some 2,267 votes as the state’s cities and counties completed their canvas, or final comprehensive check of their tabulation.

An additional 1,329 votes were found for McDonnell, while another 3,596 for Deeds were found.

That shift toward Deeds led some McDonnell supporters to suggest that tighter controls needed to be placed on the canvas efforts, although they stopped short of alleging any misdeeds.

Locally, some of those changes came from provisional ballots — those cast by voters who couldn’t be confirmed as eligible on Election Day, according to Shenandoah County registrar Lisa McDonald.

“I think it changed two or three [votes] based on provisional voters,” she said. Other changes made between Nov. 8 and Monday were the result of error correction as the canvas moved forward.

Nobody likes vote totals to change, but the counting process is an imperfect human endeavor, and one undertaken by tired humans on election night at that, according to registrars who spoke to the Daily.

Changes can come from a mistake made by a poll worker reading the precinct results over the phone to headquarters, or a mistake in typing in the numbers on the State Board of Election’s Web site.

Working the polls makes for a very long day by the time things wrap up at 7 p.m. and the counting begins, said Helen Brinkman, secretary of the Warren County Electoral Board.

“[Poll workers] have to be there at 5 in the morning, so you know they’ve gotten up by 3:30 or 3 a.m.,” she said. When the final canvas found that some numbers had been incorrectly reported to the state, “we had the [record] tapes, so we changed [the report to the state].”

Only one other statewide vote has ever been recounted in modern history — the 1989 gubernatorial race between Republican Marshall Coleman and Democrat L. Douglas Wilder, which was decided for Wilder by fewer than 6,000 votes.

Both sides will be in court in Richmond on Dec. 6 for an initial hearing.

Inauguration Day is Jan. 14.