As attorneys and judges in Richmond carved out the ground rules for the statewide recount in the attorney general race last week, Spooner Hull logged more than 2,000 miles on Virginia roads in five days to make sure that the voting equipment will be ready to process tens of thousands of ballots in the coming days. Hull, 67, is a state-certified vendor who sells and services voting machines in 40 localities statewide. He has worked for decades in the background, doing his part to protect the integrity of the electoral system and allow democracy to run its course, unhindered by technical errors that could cause dramatic shifts in Virginia’s political landscape. “Here in Virginia, we have a very good election system, and it works,” said Hull, who bought his company, Atlantic Election Services Inc., from his father 33 years ago. Since then, he has serviced countless local elections and every presidential and state election — including two previous statewide recounts. His years in the business have strengthened his faith in the state’s electoral system. “I can assure you when any state in this country undertakes a rewrite of their election law, they will come to Virginia and look at our code and how we do things,” Hull said.
As soon as it became clear that Republican Mark D. Obenshain, who trails Democrat Mark R. Herring by 165 votes out of 2.2 million cast, would petition for a recount in the closest statewide race in modern Virginia history, Hull alerted his customers that he would ready their equipment for a second tally.
The recount starts Monday in Fairfax County and the cities of Alexandria and Chesapeake. On Tuesday, the remaining cities and counties will start counting. A recount court in Richmond is expected to pronounce the winner by Friday.
“In 2005, when Bob McDonnell ran against Creigh Deeds (for attorney general), there was a partial recount,” Hull said. “But this is the first statewide election that is going to be completely recounted.”
Hull said the 2013 recount could go either way because the difference is razor-thin.
“We are looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said. “Could it change enough to overturn the election? That’s entirely possible. Remember, you’re looking at a difference of less than two votes per locality.”
Servicing nearly one-third of Virginia’s 133 counties and cities, Hull is the largest of seven vendors in the state. Printelect, a voting machine company based in Raleigh that services parts of North Carolina and South Carolina, has fewer accounts in Virginia than Hull, but it is contracted by the larger localities.
The State Board of Elections often partners with private vendors to support election functions in preparation for elections and recounts. “These vendors provide quality programming and testing of voting systems and vital logistical support for the localities,” said Don Palmer, secretary of the state board.