(AP) Republican Mark Obenshain said Nov. 26 he is seeking a recount in his paper-thin loss to Democrat Mark Herring in the race for state attorney general.
Obenshain had made it clear in recent weeks he would seek a recount of the Nov. 5 election.
The State Board of Elections on Nov. 25 certified the vote and Herring had an edge of 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million ballots cast statewide. While Virginia has no automatic recount, a candidate can request one at taxpayer expense if the margin is less than one-half of 1 percent, as it is in this case.
While the elections board unanimously certified Herring’s slim margin, the board’s Republican chairman did so with reservations because of concerns about what he called inconsistencies by localities tallying the vote.
The narrow margin for Herring was unchanged from the canvass done by local elections officials nearly two weeks ago. Provisional ballots and tabulation errors that were corrected in localities including Richmond and Fairfax County added to Herring’s lead after the Nov. 5 election.
Board chairman Charles Judd cited a lack of uniformity among localities in counting absentee and provisional ballots, or votes contested because a voter lacked the proper identification or voted at the wrong precinct.
“My vote to certify this election will be with question,” Judd said after the board voted. “I’m concerned with the integrity of the vote.”
“I personally have concerns about Fairfax County and the process of their canvass,” Judd said. While the board’s role in the election is over, he said he would meet with election officials in that heavily Democratic county to ensure there is no confusion in the future.
Fairfax County election officials insisted then they were hewing state election law, and they repeated that assertion after the certification.
“My response is basically what we’ve been saying,” said Brian Schoeneman, the secretary of the Fairfax County board. “The Fairfax County Electoral Board followed Virginia law and State Board of Elections guidance in how we handled the November 2013 General Election.”
Schoeneman, a Republican, said he was concerned that Judd’s comments were suggesting the “false perception” that the handling of provisional ballots altered the statewide race, “which is simply untrue.”
Herring, meanwhile, has declared himself Virginia’s next attorney general.
“I am gratified that the State Board of Elections today certified me as the winner of a close but fair election,” Herring said in a statement. “I look forward to serving the people of Virginia as attorney general.”
Obenshain has not signaled any intention of relenting. He and Herring have named transition teams, and Herring also has named his inaugural committee.
After Obenshain announced his recount decision, Herring said he has the right to “pursue electoral victory to an ultimate conclusion beyond the original count, canvass and certification.”
Herring added, “His tactics, however, will not impede our efforts to build the finest team to serve all Virginians in the Office of Attorney General or prepare for the 2014 legislative session.”
Republican leaders cheered Obenshain’s decision to seek a another count in the closest race in modern Virginia political history.
“Recounting a race this close is simply the prudent thing to do,” the state’s Republican Party chairman, Pat Mullins, said in a statement.
House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican from Stafford County, called Obenshain’s decision “the right one.”
“Like many others, I have heard concerns from voters across the commonwealth that in a race separated by seven-one-thousandths of a percent, we must take extra care to ensure an accurate result,” he said in a statement.
In a recount, Obenshain’s best hope would likely involve challenges of absentee or provisional ballots.
Overseeing everything would be a recount court. It would include the chief judge of the Circuit Court where the recount petition was filed — Richmond, in this case — and two other judges appointed by the chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court.
Virginia law also provides for an unsuccessful candidate to “contest” the election, based on “specific allegations which, if proven true, would have a probable impact on the outcome of the election.”
That would send a disputed election to the majority Republican General Assembly, which would meet in joint session.
“They can reverse the election, declare somebody a winner, or order a special election — do it all over again,” said Robert Roberts, a political science professor at James Madison University.
Obenshain has signaled what steps he will takes to ensure every vote is counted, up to a recount, but has not mentioned the possibility of contesting the race.
Obenshain represents the Harrisonburg area in the Virginia Senate, while Herring represents parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties.
– By Steve Szkotak