Monday, December 19, 2005


Attorney general votes get second look


The recount will be the first of a Virginia statewide election since the 1989 governor's race.


By Michael Sluss

(804) 697-1585


RICHMOND Hundreds of Election Day polling workers will return to duty Tuesday to recount the votes cast in the Nov. 8 contest for attorney general.  If all goes as planned, a panel of circuit court judges will certify the outcome Wednesday and bring finality to what appears to be the closest statewide election in Virginia history.


Republican Bob McDonnell of Virginia Beach defeated Democrat Creigh Deeds of Bath County by 323 votes out of more than 1.94 million cast, according to results certified by the state Board of Elections. Because of the slim margin -- just 0.01 percentage points -- Deeds petitioned for the recount that will begin Tuesday.


McDonnell, who declared victory on Nov. 9 and again when the Board of Elections certified the results, voiced confidence last week that the recount will reaffirm his victory. Deeds has maintained a low profile since the elections board certified the results. He has insisted that he only wants a conclusive, accurate count of the votes cast on Election Day.


This is the first recount of a Virginia statewide election since the 1989 governor's race, when Democrat Douglas Wilder defeated Republican Marshall Coleman by less than 7,000 votes.


A three-judge panel headed by Richmond Circuit Court Judge Theodore Markow issued a 17-page order outlining procedures for the recount. The order dictates where and when the counting will take place, how many people will be involved and how the results will be delivered to the judges in Richmond.


In each of Virginia's 134 localities, one Republican member and one Democratic member of the electoral board will serve as recount coordinators.  Hundreds of election officials who worked at the polls on Nov. 8 have been summoned to serve on two-member recount teams, with the number of teams varying from locality to locality. Each candidate will have volunteer observers watching the recount teams to ensure his interests are protected as the high-stakes process unfolds.


"The logistics for the recount are tremendous,' said Deeds spokesman Mark Bergman. "It's been a very intensive organizing process."


The two campaigns have had to identify recount officials and alternates to participate in the process, and recruit volunteer observers. To ease the burden of court officials, workers for Deeds and McDonnell have even handled tasks such as stuffing envelopes and providing address labels for summonses issued to the election officials involved in the recount.


McDonnell said last week that he had no trouble recruiting people to participate.


"We'll probably turn some people away," he said.


Roanoke and New River Valley voting registrars interviewed last week said they expect few problems with the recount, because most jurisdictions use computer touch-screen voting machines rather than paper-based ballots.


Recount officials in those jurisdictions merely have to check printed return sheets to determine the vote, according to the court order. If the printout is unclear, officials can generate a new copy from the machine or, in some cases, check counters on the machine.


Lawyers for Deeds and McDonnell remain at odds over the recounting of paper ballots cast on optical scanners and punch-card machines. Deeds wanted all of those ballots -- more than 500,000 of them -- run through the machines again to determine whether some votes for attorney general were not recorded during the first count. McDonnell objected, arguing that handling of paper ballots would open the door to human error that could affect the integrity of the results.


The judges denied Deeds' request after a Dec. 9 hearing, ruling that ballots would be run through machines only if results sheets are deemed illegible or unreliable.


Deeds' lawyers filed a motion late Friday in which they asked to have more than 110,000 optical scan ballots from 168 precincts rerun Tuesday. Seven Martinsville precincts and eight Wythe County precincts are cited in the motion, including the absentee precincts in both jurisdictions.


The judges will hear arguments on the motion this afternoon.


In each of the precincts cited in Deeds' motion, at least 3 percent of the ballots cast contained no vote for attorney general. Rates of 3 percent or greater "indicate an abnormality," Deeds' lawyers wrote in the motion.


According to the motion, the so-called "under vote" rate in those jurisdictions ranged from 3.1 percent in one Page County precinct to 41 percent in one Fredericksburg precinct.


"It is critical that valid votes not counted on Election Night be recorded during the recount,' said Larry Framme, the chairman of Deeds' recount organization.


(C)2005 The Roanoke Times



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