The race for Virginia’s attorney general is about as close as it gets in a statewide race: At the moment, about 100 votes separate the two candidates out of 2.2 million votes cast. When I started writing this article, Republican Mark Obenshain was leading Democrat Mark Herring, but that’s now reversed. County election boards are checking their math and deciding which provisional ballots to count. It is anyone’s guess who will be ahead when certification comes Tuesday night. In the meantime, Democrats are up in arms over what they see as a new rule the Republican-dominated state elections board put in place last Friday to make it harder to count provisional ballots in Democrat-leaning Fairfax County. Unless Herring builds up a larger lead, Democrats’ best hope for winning the attorney general’s race probably lies in federal court, and the results there are uncertain and may take a very long time to work out. Any time a race is this close you can expect partisans and political junkies to study every discretionary decision about which votes to count and how decisions get made, a process that has only intensified through crowdsourcing of election results on Twitter. The big fight this time around is over the rules for counting provisional ballots—ballots not counted on Election Day because there was some issue with them. For example, a military voter who had an absentee ballot sent overseas might have returned home before it arrived and tried to cast an in-person ballot at the precinct. In that case, election officials need to make sure the absentee ballot was never counted.
Last Friday, after most of the counties had finished going through their provisional ballots but while Fairfax County still had a fair amount of work to do, the state Board of Elections issued a directive telling Fairfax County and the rest of the state boards that they cannot have legal representatives (or party lawyers) stand in for voters to advocate that certain votes be counted. Fairfax County said its representatives had been allowed to do so in the past. The state board, which has two Republican members and one Democratic member, said it issued its clarification on the legal advice of the attorney general’s office in an effort to assure uniformity. From that point on, voters would have to argue for themselves that their provisional ballots deserved counting.
Democrats cried foul, noting that the rule change emanated from failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s office and came after the other counties were done counting, while Herring was closing the gap. Fairfax County—it should be noted—tends to skew Democrat. It looked like a rule change midstream, intended to benefit Obenshain, the Republican. Monday, however, the Virginia Board of Elections issued a further clarification, stating that Fairfax was the only county with this supposed policy (allowing outside advocates to argue for provisional ballots) and that it would be unfair for Fairfax to use this different rule. The board further clarified Monday that a voter would not need to show up in person but could supply any missing information by email or fax.
Full Article: Virginia attorney general’s race: How Democrats could win..