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“That’s what a recount is all about,” Mr. McDonald said. “Make sure all the i’s are dotted, all the t’s are absolutely crossed, and there’s no possibility there’s anything else out there we don’t know about. It’s going to be close from this point right here.”

When a recount is called, the State Board of Elections first sets the standards for the handling, security and accuracy of the tally. A three-member “recount court” is formed in Richmond and is headed by the chief judge of the Richmond Circuit Court. Two additional circuit court judges are appointed to the board by the chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court.

The recount court sets the standards for determining the accuracy of the votes and certifies the election results. Its ruling is final and cannot be appealed, according to Virginia law.

Paper ballots are recounted by hand, the printouts from electronic voting machines are reviewed, and the optical scan tabulators are rerun through a program that counts only the votes for the race being scrutinized.

John Hardin Young, an election administration lawyer who was part of Al Gore’s legal team during the recount of the disputed presidential election in Florida in 2000, said that despite the time needed for a recount, Virginia “has never had an instance where a statewide candidate did not take office because of a pending recount.”

“The target has been Dec. 21 in the past,” he said, adding that if a recount might seem onerous, it’s to be expected in a purple state.

“Where you have close elections is where you have an evenly divided state like Virginia, that is not only equally divided, but slightly changing,” he said. “That’s what you would expect in a vibrant democracy.”