RICHMOND — A three-judge panel overseeing the recount in the closely contested attorney general’s race yesterday ordered a manual recount in nine precincts — far fewer than the 156 precincts targeted by Democrat R. Creigh Deeds.
Optical-scan ballots — paper ballots read by machine — will be individually examined in eight precincts in Gloucester County and one precinct in Lynchburg because of apparent problems with the equipment, the Circuit Court panel ruled.
The State Board of Elections has certified Republican Bob McDonnell the winner by just 323 votes out of more than 1.9 million cast statewide in the Nov. 8 election — a margin of 0.0166 of a percentage point — making it the closest statewide election in modern Virginia history. Mr. Deeds demanded a recount as allowed by Virginia law when results fall within 1 percentage point.
The recount begins today at local elections offices throughout the state and is expected to be completed tomorrow.
The court last week rejected Mr. Deeds’ request to rerun all optical-scan ballots through vote tabulators. He scaled the request down on the eve of the recount, asking the judges to order rescanning only in precincts with at least a 3 percent “undervote” for attorney general.
An undervote occurs when the machine counts a ballot but records no vote being cast for a given office. The statewide average undervote in the attorney general’s race was 2.84. Mr. Deeds’ attorneys contended that anything over 3 percent was abnormal and merited a closer look.
The court, however, focused on just the Gloucester and Lynchburg precincts. Machines in Gloucester failed to process 79 ballots, and 244 ballots in Lynchburg were not read by the machines because votes were marked with the wrong type of pen.
As a result, all the ballots run through those machines — more than 6,500 in Gloucester and more than 1,300 in Lynchburg — will be manually recounted.
“I’m encouraged that some votes are going to be counted,” Mr. Deeds said after a nearly 3-hour hearing. “I’m a little perplexed that all the votes can’t be recounted.”
But Mr. McDonnell’s attorney, William Hurd, said the judges were wise to limit the manual recount to the most troublesome precincts.
“The more the ballots are handled, the more risk there is of human error,” he said.