McDonnell expects recount, not challenge through legislature in attorney general’s race

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November 26, 2013

RICHMOND — Gov. Robert F. McDonnell on Tuesday said he would “absolutely” ask for a recount if he were Mark D. Obenshain, the Republican who lost the race for attorney general by just 165 votes out of 2.2 million cast.

But the governor was more dismissive of the idea of contesting the election under a little-known state law that allows the General Assembly to determine the outcome.

“You’d have to make the case that there was something so unjust about the conduct of the election that the only fair remedy would be for the legislature to vote,” McDonnell said. “I think we’re a long way from that determination.”

Speaking in a radio interview on Tuesday, one day after the State Board of Elections declared Democrat Mark R. Herring the winner, McDonnell recalled his own squeaker in the race for attorney general eight years ago against state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath). Four years after that, McDonnell beat Deeds in a landslide in the race for governor.

Asked if Obenshain should call for a recount, McDonnell said he anticipates that will happen but noted that that was the senator’s decision. McDonnell had no doubt about what he would do in Obenshain’s place.

“If I were him, absolutely,” McDonnell said on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” program. “I won by the landslide of 323 votes, and I picked up 37 during the recount to win by a total of 360. This is half of that.”

The State Board of Elections on Monday certified the results of the Nov. 5 election, with Herring, a state senator from Loudoun County, receiving 1,103,777 votes and Obenshain, a senator from Harrisonburg, getting 1,103,612. State officials said it was the closest statewide election in Virginia history.

Obenshain is widely expected to seek a recount but has not called for one yet. He has 10 days from the date of the board’s certification to do so. A recount would leave the outcome in doubt at least until mid-December. Both candidates have established transition teams to help prepare them to take office in January.

“I feel for both of the candidates,” McDonnell said. “Here they are, they’ve slugged it out for two years, and it ain’t over. ... I think both Mark and Mark are gonna have a stressful Thanksgiving.”

As he voted for certification Monday, board chairman Charles E. Judd said he had questions about how Fairfax County had conducted its canvass. Judd, former chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said he was concerned that poll numbers shifted repeatedly, and that some voters who cast provisional ballots in the heavily Democratic county were given more time than voters in other parts of the state to prove that their ballots should be counted.

Brian W. Schoeneman, secretary of the Fairfax electoral board and also a Republican, said the county observed proper voting procedures. He said adjustments to vote totals and the accommodations made for some provisional voters only drew scrutiny this year because the race was so close.

Asked specifically about issues raised about Fairfax, McDonnell indicated that at least so far, he was not aware of anything serious enough to merit intervention by the legislature.

“We’re gonna have to see during this time [of a presumed recount] what articulable evidence is there that there was something that occurred that would cast a pall over the conduct of a fair and correct and ethical election, so that the General Assembly might determine that they would need to take it over,” he said. “Right now, I haven’t heard enough to suggest there was a problem.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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