RICHMOND — A recount yesterday upheld Republican Robert F. McDonnell’s victory for attorney general in the closest statewide election in modern Virginia history.
Mr. McDonnell gained 37 votes in the statewide recount. The final vote, certified last night by a three-judge panel of the Richmond Circuit Court, was 970,981 for Mr. McDonnell and 970,621 for Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, a 360-vote margin.
Mr. Deeds demanded the recount after the State Board of Elections certified Mr. McDonnell the winner by just 323 votes out of more than 1.9 million cast in the Nov. 8 election — a margin of 0.0166 of a percentage point.
“I started February 19, 2002, at a chicken dinner in Prince William County when I announced I was running for attorney general, so it’s been a long ride,” a weary but relieved Mr. McDonnell told reporters.
Mr. Deeds conceded in a call to Mr. McDonnell at 7:15 p.m. “He was very gracious to me,” Mr. McDonnell said, adding that Mr. Deeds wished him a merry Christmas and inquired about one of Mr. McDonnell’s daughters who is in the Army in Iraq.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Mr. Deeds said at a gathering of supporters at the home of Richmond lawyer Larry Framme, who chaired his recount effort. “The whole experience of campaigning for statewide office has been humbling and gratifying for me.”
Totals from voting machines were rechecked in most of Virginia’s 134 localities Tuesday. Results from each of the state’s more than 2,500 precincts were sealed in envelopes, along with any challenged ballots, and delivered by state police to Richmond for a final tally and review by the three-judge panel.
The court ordered more rigorous hand counts in 10 precincts where problems with voting equipment were documented. A few thousand old-fashioned paper ballots statewide also had to be recounted manually, and punch-card ballots in one Virginia Beach precinct were rerun through a tabulator because a printout of the original results could not be read.
Mr. McDonnell said he realized about midday Tuesday that he was in good shape when his observers reported only minor shifts in the voting, indicating the result would be about the same.
Mr. Deeds had pushed for the most intensive recount possible. However, the court on Dec. 9 rejected his request to rerun more than 500,000 optical-scan ballots through vote tabulators.
Virginia law allows a court-supervised recount when results fall within 1 percentage point.
Mr. Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, has two more years left in his term. He said the statewide campaign will help him in that job.
In the only other statewide recount in modern Virginia history, Republican Marshall Coleman shaved only 113 votes from Democrat L. Douglas Wilder’s 7,000-vote advantage in the 1989 governor’s race.