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

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

McDonnell raises recount questions; A1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

RICHMOND — It’s been two weeks and a day since Election Day, and the race to be Virginia’s next attorney general is still getting closer.

That doesn’t sit well with some supporters of the apparent winner, Republican Del. Bob McDonnell, who called on state officials to exercise more oversight of local efforts to come up with a final count.

About 1,500 votes separated McDonnell and the apparent loser, state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, when Election Day turned into the day after Election Day.

The gap has been steadily decreasing ever since.

As of 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Mc-Donnell held a 322-vote lead over Deeds, or 0.01 percent — 49.96 percent to 49.95 percent out of 1.9 million votes cast.

It shouldn’t be so easy for vote totals to shift, two McDonnell supporters told reporters during a conference call Tuesday.

“I think what we’re seeing is somewhat unprecedented,” said former Attorney General Stephen Rosenthal, a Democrat working with the McDonnell transition team.

“Vote tallies are changing without any public view or knowledge of what’s going on,” he said. “And they are changing constantly and daily. That’s causing significant confusion.”

Former electoral board member and Republican Del. Jack Rust said the State Board of Elections needs to be exercising much more control over local electoral boards as they refine their counts.

“One of the things that I’ve always been very proud of is that there has been no hint of impropriety in Virginia elections, and I think that’s extraordinary,” he said.

Communication between the local boards and the state boards needs to be much more formal, Rust said, with the locals coming and asking for permission to go back and make changes.

Deeds’ surge of more than 1,000 votes is odd as well, he said.

“That’s not what ought to happen under a statistical analysis,” he said.

Neither Rosenthal nor Rust said they were alleging any sort of fraud, but they did say controls needed to be tightened a great deal.

“Anytime there’s a lack of oversight, there’s an opportunity for bad things to happen,” Rust said. “I don’t think bad things have happened. I don’t think that’s what Virginia is about.”

Over at the Deeds campaign/transition office, the reaction was strong and quick.

“We believe that the integrity of the election process remains intact and we look forward to working to ensure the results of this election are certified in a dignified, respectful manner,” Larry Framme, the head of Deeds’ recount team, said in an e-mail to reporters.

“If Bob McDonnell and his team has evidence of improprieties regarding the certification process, they should bring those forward, and not hide behind accusations,” he said.

It’s not uncommon for vote totals to shift significantly, he said, pointing to the 2001 race between Republican Mark Earley and now Democratic Gov. Mark Warner.

Earley picked up some 4,000 votes during that canvas.

“That vote total is more than what Creigh Deeds has gained on Bob McDonnell in this election,” Framme said.

The State Board of Elections is set to certify a final count on Monday.