In an attorney general’s race that remains too close to call, Republican Mark D. Obenshain began today with a 17-vote edge over Democrat Mark R. Herring.
But by afternoon, the pendulum had swung the other way when the numbers in four Richmond precincts were updated, putting Herring ahead by 115 votes out of more than 2 million cast statewide.
Richmond Registrar J. Kirk Showalter said that Republicans had asked to review the results of eight of the city’s voting precincts, and then added another 10.
“They demanded these figures be reviewed in public because of some discrepancies that they said they had identified,” Showalter said. “We went through all the figures again today.”
In precinct 501, where a ballot machine’s results had not been sent to the master tally, Herring picked up 116 votes. He gained 16 more in precincts 603, 607 and 802.
Such changes are not unusual, Showalter said. “There will always be changes from election night, and the numbers are still unofficial.”
The attorney general race may be the closest contest in the state’s recent history, said Charles Judd, chairman of the Virginia State Board of Elections.
“Nobody even older than me remembers it ever being this close,” Judd said Monday.
The still unofficial results reflect absentee ballots from Fairfax County, but do not reflect provisional ballots in the state's biggest county, where, as of Monday, 172 of 493 had been accepted. A total of 3,158 provisional ballots were cast statewide.
The Fairfax County electoral board will continue its review of provisional ballots tomorrow and plans to report its certified results to the state by the end of the day.
Friday was the deadline for people who had cast provisional ballots to present an acceptable form of ID to their local electoral board so that their vote would be counted, but the State Board of Elections has extended the deadline until Tuesday.
A directive by the State Board of Elections to the Fairfax County board from Friday caused some commotion over the weekend as it was perceived as an attempt to change the rules, making it harder for voters who cast provisional ballots to get them counted.
“A voter attending the provisional ballot meeting is permitted to have legal counsel or a representative present when the Electoral Board meets to determine the validity of his/her provisional ballot,” the directive said.
“However, the provisional voter must also be present if a person claims to be there to represent the voter as his/her legal counsel or a representative. There shall be no legal counsel or representative present in the meeting without the voter being present.”
In short, the directive banned legal counsels from stepping in to help get the ballot counted – unless the voter is there in person.
Judd said Monday that directive was designed to make sure local registrars were aware of an already existing rule. “This time attorneys were so aggressive, so we had to point this out,” Judd said. “No rule was changed, this is already law.”
The elections board on Monday was still waiting for provisional vote results from Montgomery and Spotsylvania counties and the city of Roanoke.
Legal aides for both candidates and parties also paid close attention to the counts in Fairfax County after election officials identified the source of an irregularity in the number of absentee ballots cast in the state's largest locality.
Because of an error based on a faulty optical scan machine that was not tabulated, an estimated 2,200 to 2,700 absentee ballots in the county had not been counted.
While neither Obenshain nor Herring vowed to petition for a recount, both candidates are keeping their options open pending the certification of the final results by the elections board on Nov. 25.
After that, the loser has 10 days to petition the Richmond Circuit Court.
“We’re going to wait until the State Board of Elections finishes its tabulations and make sure that every legitimate vote is counted,” Obenshain spokesman Paul Logan said Monday.
Herring’s campaign manager, Kevin O’Holleran, said that as the canvass has progressed since Election Day, “we get an increasingly accurate picture of the results, (and) Mark Herring’s share of the vote has grown steadily and he has now overtaken Senator Obenshain.”