Virginia’s largest voting jurisdiction is set to begin a recount Monday for the tightest race in state history, even as one candidate raises concerns about the conduct of the election.
Fairfax County is scheduled to start recounting more than 300,000 ballots cast in the state attorney general’s race between Republican Mark D. Obenshain and Mark R. Herring, a Democrat who leads his opponent by a mere 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million ballots cast last month.
In a motion filed last week in Richmond Circuit Court, attorneys for Mr. Obenshain criticized Fairfax elections officials for not only missing a deadline for delivering ballots, but because “Fairfax election officials grossly departed from the security procedures” required by law.
Court documents state that Fairfax officials did not transport some ballots to the county’s circuit court clerk by the day after the election canvas that ended Nov. 12, and that those ballots “remained unprotected by the legally-required security measures for nearly a month after the election.”
Brian W. Schoeneman, secretary of the Fairfax Electoral Board, said the board was investigating Mr. Obenshain’s claims, “but we are confident that the issues here were simply the result of inadvertent errors by Election Officials, the integrity of the ballots was not compromised, and there is no evidence of any tampering.
“Our chain-of-custody procedures are tight, and they are designed to ensure that even when errors are made the ballots are secure and remain within our custody and control,” Mr. Schoeneman said.
The complaint is one of several arguments that have been made against Fairfax County and its handling of the election.
During a meeting of the Virginia State Board of Elections to discuss the recount, board Chairman Charles Judd voted to certify the results “with question,” citing concerns he had about the “integrity of the data.”
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Mr. Judd said he had reservations about the canvassing in the heavily Democratic county, which Mr. Herring won easily. He said the county’s electoral board allowed voters with provisional ballots more time than other jurisdictions to prove their votes should be counted.
Republican observers present for the provisional ballot counting last month also voiced criticism of the amount of time given Fairfax voters to explain their ballots.
Mr. Schoeneman said his board “scrupulously followed the spirit and letter of the law as we understand it.”
Republicans aren’t the only ones complaining.
Last week, Mr. Herring’s legal team attempted — and failed — to block the Obenshain campaign’s request to allow representatives from either side to review poll books.
The maneuvering is not surprising given the importance of the recount for both candidates, said former Virginia Attorney General Anthony F. Troy.
“In every recount, if you are prevailing you want to ensure the recount is a retabulation,” Mr. Troy said. For the candidate trailing, “you want to turn the recount as much as you can into a contest. There’s always tensions.”
It’s up to the recount court to decide what is a legitimate complaint and could have a probable outcome on the election, he said.
“Let’s assume a certain number of ballots were not locked securely in the clerk’s office as required. There still remains the question of were they under security? Were they locked down somewhere?” Mr. Troy said. “Just because they weren’t locked in a courtroom as opposed to a warehouse, they’re still secure. From a recount standpoint, you should count those. From a contest standpoint, can you really say the fact they were locked in a warehouse rather than courtroom brings the election results under such suspicion there would be a change in the probable outcome of the election.”
Fairfax is beginning its recount early along with Alexandria and the city of Chesapeake, with the latter two given an extra day because of the large amount of ballots that need to be counted by hand.
Numbers from the Virginia State Board of Elections show Alexandria will recount roughly 40,000 votes by hand while Chesapeake faces a hand count of more than 60,000 votes.
The recount for the rest of the state is set to begin Tuesday, with an official determination by the recount court expected by the end of the week.