- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

RICHMOND — The closest statewide election in modern Virginia history was headed for a recount yesterday after the State Board of Elections certified Robert F. McDonnell as the winner of the attorney general’s race by a scant 323 votes.

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, Bath County Democrat, said he will petition for a recount today in Richmond Circuit Court.

“Votes will change in a recount, and it won’t take many votes changing to affect the outcome of this election,” Mr. Deeds said in a telephone interview. “Three hundred and twenty-three votes — that’s nothing. Of course, it’s everything right now, but it’s nothing.”

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican who represented Virginia Beach in the House of Delegates for 14 years, said he was confident his lead will hold up and that he will be inaugurated along with Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine and Lt. Gov.-elect William T. Bolling Jan. 14.

“We are full speed ahead with our transition efforts,” Mr. McDonnell said in a teleconference with reporters. “We have top lawyers who will take care of the legal business that needs to be taken care of over the next couple of weeks.”

Mr. McDonnell had 970,886 votes to 970,563 for Mr. Deeds in the Nov. 8 election, according to the state board.

“That is less than one one-hundredth of a percent of the votes cast,” said Larry Framme, a Richmond lawyer and chairman of an organization that will oversee the recount for Mr. Deeds. “Senator Deeds has great confidence in the integrity of the Virginia electoral process, but he, like everyone, knows from past experience that human error does exist.”

Indeed, enough mistakes were found during a canvass of results by local electoral boards to shrink Mr. McDonnell’s lead from about 3,000 votes on election night to his current razor-thin margin.

Randy Beales, a former interim attorney general who is heading Mr. McDonnell’s transition team, said the accuracy of the vote totals has been checked three times — on election night, during local canvassing and by the state board — so the numbers shouldn’t change much more.

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. Recounts changed the winners of two House of Delegates races in 1991.

A recount is just that: a mathematical and clerical exercise in which the totals of every voting machine in Virginia are checked and the totals recalculated from scratch in a search for errors.

Issues such as charges of voting irregularities by either party are not considered during a recount. That would occur after a recount, should either candidate choose to legally contest an election based on charges of improprieties such as voter fraud or intimidation.

Mr. McDonnell has questioned why all the major changes in the vote totals after Election Day were to his detriment, but has stopped short of charging fraud.

Mr. Deeds’ aides distributed to reporters election results from several recent statewide races suggesting his gain was not unusual. In the 1997 attorney general’s race, for example, Republican Mark Earley’s lead over Democrat William Dolan grew by 6,580 votes between election night and certification.

State law allows a recount if the margin is less than 1 percent. The state pays for the recount if the margin is less than one-half of 1 percent, although the candidates pay their own expenses of monitoring the recount.

A panel of three Richmond Circuit Court judges, headed by Chief Judge Theodore J. Markow, will preside over the recount, which is expected to take at least until mid-December. A preliminary hearing has been set for Dec. 6.

• Associated Press political writer Bob Lewis contributed to this report.

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