The most extensive recount in modern Virginia political history will involve tens of thousands of people statewide to determine the state’s next attorney general. The recount begins Monday in Fairfax County and the cities of Alexandria and Chesapeake before moving to every jurisdiction in the state on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those three localities get a head start because of the extensive hand counting of ballots entailed in their recount or simply the sheer number of ballots and machines to be checked, which is the case in Fairfax County. A three-judge recount court will convene on Thursday in Richmond to rule on challenged ballots that emerge from the re-tabulation. Democrat Mark Herring should know by Friday if his 165-vote edge holds or if Republican Mark Obenshain has picked up enough votes to surpass his fellow state senator —or closed it sufficiently to take it one step further. Obenshain’s camp has signaled the recount might not be the candidate’s last gasp. They could play a rare, little-used card, taking the race to the General Assembly as a contested election and letting the Republican-majority body decide the race or call for a new election.
Regardless of how the contest ends, the outcome will be closely watched by both national political parties because the office of attorney general is often a launching pad for governor, as well as once reliably red Virginia’s increasing importance as a swing state in presidential elections.
The State Board of Elections vowed the recount will be thorough, politically balanced and transparent.
“I think when you talk about fairness and transparency, at each stage there’s different institutions involved that should provide confidence in the system,” Secretary Don Palmer said. “You have the election community involved, you have the political parties and you have the judicial system, and together I think that it will be a very thorough recount.”
The recount will turn primarily on paper ballots — one-fourth of the 2.2 million votes cast — which are run through optical scan machines to record the votes. Sometimes they result in so-called overvotes and undervotes.
Those involve instances in which a ballot reflected votes for every candidate but one, or one on which opposing candidates for the same office each were marked off because of an errant stroke of a pencil. An undervote might entail, for example, a voter filling in the “O” of Obenshain instead of the oval on the ballot that should be marked. The vote wouldn’t be recorded, but could be in a recount.