- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

Local elections boards in Virginia yesterday began canvassing the results of the too-close-to-call Senate race, as Democrat James H. Webb Jr. declared victory over Republican Sen. George Allen and began assembling a transition team.

Mr. Webb clung to a lead of slightly more than 7,400 votes, which could trigger a recount that will determine which party controls the Senate.

The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Webb last night after obtaining updated numbers yesterday from all 134 localities where voting occurred. About half said they had completed their postelection canvassing and nearly all had counted outstanding absentee ballots. Most were expected to be finished by tomorrow.

The new AP count showed Mr. Webb with 1,172,538 votes and Mr. Allen with 1,165,302, a difference of 7,236. Virginia has had two statewide vote recounts in modern history, but both resulted in changes of no more than a few hundred votes.

An adviser to Mr. Allen, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the senator wanted to wait until most of canvassing was completed before announcing his decision, possibly as early as tonight.

The adviser said Mr. Allen was disinclined to request a recount if the final vote spread was similar to that of election night.

“It remains too close to call,” Ed Gillespie, a senior Allen adviser and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said earlier yesterday. “The votes can shift any number of ways. It is conceivable, too, that on November 27th, you may be asking Mr. Webb whether he will be seeking a recount.”

The canvass in Stafford County moved 1,500 votes from Mr. Webb to Mr. Allen, Mr. Gillespie said.

Mr. Allen had trailed Mr. Webb by 7,407 votes, with all but three of the state’s precincts reporting yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Webb camp said the “senator-elect” had assembled a transition team that includes former Rep. Owen B. Pickett, Virginia Democrat; Delegate A. Donald McEachin, Richmond Democrat; and Tom Lehner, former chief of staff to Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb.

The group also said the canvassing of votes yesterday was a formality that was unlikely to change the outcome of the race.

“I think that the votes had come in, and Jim Webb is senator-elect, and it is appropriate to move forward,” said former Gov. Mark Warner, one of Mr. Webb’s most important allies on the campaign trail. “There has never been a Senate election where a candidate with a margin of this size has not ended up emerging as the next U.S. senator… Our expectation is that this will continue to be a margin of thousands.”

Yesterday, Mr. Allen and Mr. Webb spent the day with their families as local elections boards canvassed vote totals, studied provisional ballots and counted votes in one outstanding precinct.

The process, which party and campaign representatives are monitoring, must be completed by Tuesday.

The results will then be forwarded to the Virginia State Board of Elections, which has until Nov. 27 to certify the vote.

If the tallies continue to show Mr. Webb leading by less than one percentage point, Mr. Allen would have 10 days to file a petition for a recount in Richmond Circuit Court.

Under Virginia election law, a candidate can request a recount if the margin is one percentage point or less. The state pays for the recount if the margin is less than half a percentage point.

A panel of three judges would decide the rules for a recount performed by the state elections board.

If a recount occurs, Republicans and Democrats say the official outcome might not be known until next month.

In modern Virginia history, there have been several election recounts.

Last year, election night results showed Republican attorney general candidate Robert F. McDonnell led by slightly more than 3,000 votes, but that margin shrunk to 323 votes after a canvass. The recount concluded on Dec. 21, setting Mr. McDonnell’s final margin at 360 votes.

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.

Democrats and Republican yesterday agreed that if history is any indicator any major mistakes in the Senate race would be found in the canvassing of local results, not a recount.

“This canvass could very well change the numbers, and this canvass could go either way,” said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican elected to office last year. “I know in the canvass last year, I lost 6,000 votes.”

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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