Fairfax County elections officials said Saturday that they had discovered about 3,200 absentee ballots that went uncounted on Election Day, producing a chunk of new votes for Democratic state Sen. Mark R. Herring in the still-undecided race for Virginia attorney general. The newly found ballots added another twist to the closely watched contest for the commonwealth’s chief lawyer that will likely end in a state-funded recount in December. The high stakes were underscored by the dozens of operatives from both parties who descended on the Fairfax County Government Center to monitor the election board’s proceedings. The winner will hold an office that has become a launchpad to the governorship and national politics. Virginia Republicans, who narrowly lost the governorship and lieutenant governor’s posts to Democrats on Tuesday, are hoping to avoid being shut out of statewide office — including both U.S. Senate seats — for the first time since 1970. Democrats are eager to secure a post that has not been held by the party since 1994. The number of uncounted ballots in large, heavily Democratic Fairfax, more than officials had initially believed, yielded 2,070 additional votes for Herring (D-Loudoun) and 938 for state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg). Some ballots contained write-in candidates for attorney general.
On Saturday evening, the Virginia Board of Elections updated the statewide tally to show Obenshain ahead by 55 votes of the 2.2 million cast. The margin is expected to remain a moving target — shifting as corrected counts flow in from local election boards — until the canvassing deadline of midnight Tuesday.Meanwhile, Fairfax elections officials said they were caught off guard Friday when the state Board of Elections issued instructions that changed local procedures for considering the provisional ballots of those who voted on Election Day but, for some reason, hadn’t appeared on regular voter rolls. These include, for example, people who voted absentee overseas in previous elections and had since returned to Virginia, not realizing that they were still considered absentee, officials said.The state Board of Elections ruled Friday that those who want to argue for their provisional vote to be counted have to appear in person before the local Electoral Board. Officials said they issued the directive to ensure that procedures for evaluating provisional ballots were uniform across all counties.