2013 Elections / Hampton Roads / Local / Politics / Virginia

ICYMI: A post-election scramble – and wait

op-edMy latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot last Thursday. A couple of things were on my mind as I wrote the article Wednesday morning. First, the close AG race.

I had no idea that, as of right now, the margin between the two Marks – Democrat Herring and Republican Obenshain – would shrink from “a few hundred” to a mere 17 votes. It was clear, though, that the contest  would be in recount territory, which is why I mentioned the recount rules (and posted them more fully here).

The special elections, particularly in the 6th Senate district, were the other. Living as I do in the 6th, I was well aware that the campaigns for that seat had already started. Since last Tuesday, I’ve been contacted by all but one candidate in the 6th on both sides of the aisle, most of them more than once. No wonder – the nominating contests will both be held in the next 10 days, even though the date for the special election has not been set. Politics will guide the governor in setting the date.

If Tuesday’s AG contest had been decided, the game plan for the two special elections was fairly simple: An Obenshain win coupled with a Northam win would have left the Senate still evenly divided, 19-19, and there would be little incentive to delay the special elections. A Herring win would have put the Democrats down two seats — 20-18. There would be little incentive to rush the special elections. I’ve heard dates as late as March 2014, after the upcoming General Assembly session ends.

With the results unknown in the attorney general contest, the decision is not as simple.

History would argue for a quick special election in the 6th: In 2005, when then-Sen. Bill Bolling was elected lieutenant governor, the special election for the 4th Senate District was held Jan. 3, 2006.

But leaving the seat vacant would give Republicans a 20-19 edge, perhaps tempting enough for McDonnell to delay the election as long as possible. On the other hand, holding the election soon might allow the Republicans to devote all of their resources and claim the 21st seat they have long coveted.

I suspect the governor will decide on the date for the special in the 6th once the nominations are secured, based on his assessment of the possibility of Republicans winning the seat.

One other thing: in my article, I mentioned that in the 2005 recount, the opscan ballots were not re-run. That is true, because that was the law at the time. However, the law was changed in 2008:

3. For optical scan tabulators, the recount officials shall first examine the printout to redetermine the vote. Only if the printout is not clear, or on the request of the court, the recount officials shall rerun all the ballots through a tabulator programmed to count only the votes for the office or issue in question in the recount and to set aside all ballots containing write-in votes, overvotes, and undervotes. The ballots that are set aside, any ballots not accepted by the tabulator, and any ballots for which a tabulator could not be programmed to meet the programming requirements of this subdivision, shall be hand counted using the standards promulgated by the State Board pursuant to subsection A. Prior to running the ballots through the tabulator, the recount officials shall ensure that logic and accuracy tests have been successfully performed on each tabulator after the tabulator has been programmed. The result calculated for ballots accepted by the tabulator during the recount shall be considered the correct determination for those ballots unless the court finds sufficient cause to rule otherwise.

This is what Creigh Deeds had asked for in the 2005 recount but was denied. With the change, we should see the opscan ballots put back through the machines. With more localities using them (and all localities should be using them, but that’s a post for another day), this may very well extend the recount time beyond the late December time frame. (A list of all of the voting machines in Virginia is in this pdf, from the SBE website.)

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot every week, usually on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot.