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The 2013 contest for attorney general is the closest statewide race in modern Virginia history. On Monday, the State Board of Elections certified results declaring Sen. Mark R. Herring (D) the winner by 165 out of more than 2 million votes. That news is spurring challenger Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R) to request a recount. Three weeks after the election, we get some insight into when we might know for certain who the next commonwealth attorney general will be.
- Michael Pope Northern Virginia reporter, WAMU 88.5; political reporter, Connection Newspapers; Author, "Hidden History of Alexandria, D.C." (The History Press)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, several universities in our region are building out, everything from student housing and new facilities. We'll take a look at campus architecture and how new buildings fit into a university and into a neighborhood.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, it's been three weeks since Virginians went to the polls. But the State Board of Elections only certified a winner in the attorney general's race this week. Sen. Mark Herring ended up ahead by just 165 votes out of more than 2 million votes cast, the closest statewide race in modern Virginia history.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHis challenger, Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain, is asking for a recount. Joining us to talk about what happens next is Michael Pope. He is WAMU 88.5's Northern Virginia reporter and a political reporter with Connection Newspapers. Michael's also the author of "Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria & Arlington." Michael, good to see you.
MR. MICHAEL POPEGood to see you.
NNAMDIBefore we get to the recount, let's talk briefly about State Sen. Creigh Deeds, who was released from the hospital Friday. He is speaking out for the first time since that tragedy last week in which he was seriously wounded by his son who then committed suicide. What is Sen. Deeds saying?
POPEWell, the senator spoke to his local newspaper, a weekly newspaper called the Highland Recorder and said essentially, the system failed my son. It's a very tragic story. He said that the Rockbridge Community Service Board officials are responsible for what happened and that he's going to make it his life's mission to try to reform this system which is obviously has some serious errors.
NNAMDIThis is a man who ran for governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. How -- what effect do you think his speaking out will have?
POPEWell, it's likely to have a great effect, especially in the upcoming General Assembly session. You know, since this happened, there has been all kinds of talk about potential legislative reform, for example, lengthening the period of time you can hold someone under an emergency custody order, funding for all kinds of preventative service, psychiatric beds. And so, you know, already, this very tragic and sad situation has prompted any number of potential reforms that we're likely to see as part of the upcoming General Assembly session.
NNAMDISen. Deeds noting the fact that rural areas, such as where he lives in Bath County, are not well served by some of the mental health institutions in the region, so we can expect that there's likely to be movement in the General Assembly. This is truly a tragedy. Moving on to the Virginia attorney general contest. Republican State Sen. Mark Obenshain today is formally asking for a recount. How much is a recount likely to shift the outcome here?
POPEUnknown. And the reason for that is because we're moving into totally uncharted territory here. There's never been a recount like the one that's about to happen. Because the last statewide recount happened back in 2005, and the rules were totally different back then because that was a recount that involved -- you know, back then, the way the Virginia law works is that the recount essentially took the numbers that came out of the machines on Election Day and compared those numbers with the numbers that were reported to the State Board of Elections.
POPEAnd as long as they matched, then they were checked off. So there were no ballots that were actually recounted. Interestingly enough, the Democratic candidate in that race was none other than Creigh Deeds, who we were just talking about.
POPEHe and his team wanted to have all of the paper ballots run through the scanner again. But the judge said, no, that's not how Virginia law works. And so there were a handful of cases, maybe four or five specific precincts, where they did run the ballots through the scanners again because of some kind of irregularity.
POPEBut the, you know, that's a very small handful. And for the most part, the paper ballots were not run through the machines again. So when Deeds returned to the State Senate, he introduced legislation to change how recounts worked. And so this recount will be largely guided by that Deeds legislation which says that all of these paper ballots -- these are more than 700,000 paper ballots in Virginia -- will be run through the scanners again. So, like I said, we're moving into totally uncharted territory here.
NNAMDIQuestions or comments, you can call 800-433-8850. We're talking with WAMU 88.5 Northern Virginia reporter Michael Pope about the recount that is likely in the attorney general's race in the Commonwealth of Virginia. 800-433-8850. Do you think a race with such a razor-thin margin should go to a recount? If you're a Virginia voter who didn't cast a ballot on Election Day, do you now regret not voting?
NNAMDIObenshain's campaign is reminding us that, around the country, there have been four statewide elections since 2000 with margins under 300 votes, and three were reversed by recounts. So those seem to point to pretty good odds for Mark Obenshain in the recount process.
POPEWell, the Obenshain campaign also pointed out that all of those examples that you just gave had a margin -- a victory that -- or, you know, a margin before the recount that was larger than our very thin, razor-thin, 165-vote margin of victory in this case. So, you know, we're talking about an election that's going to feature anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 over votes, and that's a lot of potential votes that have yet to be counted in this election that could totally change the margin of victory.
NNAMDIIt looks like Mark Herring is moving forward as the declared winner and building his transition team. But Mark Obenshain has also named a transition team. I guess that's to be expected?
POPEWell, you say, to be expected, but what's to be expected? We don't really know. He does have a transition team. Considering that he may end up being the attorney general, it's probably a smart thing for him to have a transition team.
NNAMDIThat's what I thought. So when does this all begin? What's the process for the recount?
POPESo the process began this morning with the Obenshain campaign sending a legal notification to the Circuit Court in Richmond that they wanted to seek a recount. Then the chief judge of Richmond will be the head of a three-judge panel that will be the recount court. Next week sometime, that judge will issue a preliminary order. Then the chief justice of the Supreme Court will appoint the other two judges on this three-judge panel.
POPEAnd then some time in December, probably the week of Dec. 15, there will be a one- or two-day recount followed by this three-judge panel making a final ruling. So it's likely to be a three-day recount because some of the jurisdictions are going to have to hand count all of their paper ballots because of limitations with the machines, Charlottesville and Alexandria specifically.
POPESo in Charlottesville and Alexandria, it's likely to be a two-day recount. Then they're going to have some contested ballots, which they will send to Richmond. The three-judge panel will probably take that third day of the recount to look at all of those contested ballots and then declare a winner.
NNAMDIAre there still questions about how ballots were tallied in Fairfax County? People will recall that that's where Herring took the lead after voting officials in Fairfax found that more than 3,000 votes had not been properly counted on Election Night, that, along with other issues.
POPEYeah, Fairfax County ended up extending the window of time that voters could come in and identify themselves to cast these provisional ballots. And Republicans feel like that might have been a mistake. There was a conference call this morning with the Obenshain legal team, and that question was asked. And the lawyer said it was too soon to talk about that. But I guarantee you, outside of that conference call, it was not too soon for the legal team to talk about that. I would anticipate that those provisional ballots in Fairfax County cast after the original deadline may end up being challenged.
NNAMDISo you're saying that by about the middle of December, we should know the results of this recount?
POPEYeah, mid to late. If you look at the 2005 recount, that was a one-day recount. It happened on Dec. 20, so we're looking at a timeline that's somewhat analogous. That was a one-day recount. This is likely to be a three-day recount. In any event, you know, mid to late December, we probably should have a winner. But we never know what's going to come up during all of this.
NNAMDIBut here's the kicker. This might not even be settled even after a recount. What could happen next?
POPEAre you talking about the special elections?
POPESo both of the candidates for attorney general are sitting state senators, which means that...
NNAMDINo. I wasn't talking about the special election. I was talking about there's some procedure, a provision that would allow the loser after a recount to contest the result in an unusual joint session of the State's House of Delegates and Senate.
POPEYes, this is -- there's been a lot of talk about this. It seems kind of farfetched, I have to admit. But here's how the rules operate, apparently. If the losing candidate wants to contest the validity of the election, they can do so in the Virginia General Assembly, a very little known process that involves a total vote of all of the members of the General Assembly. In other words, all of the senators and all of the House of Delegates essentially have one vote. You would need a majority, and Republicans have a very clear majority.
POPESo it's -- you know, under that scenario, though, Kojo, the Republicans would have to be on record, you know, potentially overturning the results of an election. And do they want that on their voting record? So that is a possibility, seems farfetched. It would be very dramatic if it did happen.
NNAMDIA lot of farfetched things become commonplace in these situations. You never know what will happen. But if we do find out about it, then we'll certainly be talking to Michael Pope. He is WAMU 88.5's Northern Virginia reporter and a political reporter with Connection Newspapers. Michael Pope is the author of the book "Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria & Arlington." Michael, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, a look at campus architecture and how new buildings fit into a university and a neighborhood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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