The Post’s View

Talking down the result in Va.’s attorney general race

CHARLES E. Judd, the Republican operative who chairs Virginia’s Board of Elections, did a disservice Monday to the state he serves by simultaneously certifying the razor-thin results in the race for attorney general and suggesting, groundlessly, that they are somehow tainted. If his irresponsible remarks impugn the outcome of the race, or set the stage for a protracted fight in the state legislature or the courts, Mr. Judd will be remembered for having recast a fair election as a hyper-partisan free-for-all.

The three-member board of elections, Mr. Judd included, declared that Democrat Mark R. Herring, a Loudoun County state senator, had slipped past Republican Mark D. Obenshain, a state senator from Harrisonburg. Mr. Herring’s margin of victory, 165 votes out of 2.2 million ballots cast, made the race the closest statewide contest ever.

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Mr. Obenshain’s campaign announced Tuesday that it will request a recount, and it should. While a recount would take time and be costly, voters no less than the candidates themselves deserve to know that every properly cast vote was accurately counted. No matter who wins, the recount should be the end of it.

The trouble with Mr. Judd’s heedless comments is that they could be seized upon by Mr. Obenshain’s camp, or state Republicans, to formally “contest” the results in the General Assembly. To Mr. Obenshain’s credit, no one in his circle has threatened to choose that option. At least, not yet.

Under an obscure provision of state law, an appeal to the legislature is allowed based on ill-defined “objections to the conduct or results of the election” and “specific allegations” that might have altered the race’s outcome. The legislature, 85 of whose 140 members are Republicans, would be left to adjudicate those “objections” and “allegations.”

Mr. Judd, former executive director of the state GOP and of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, said his concerns would not alter the election’s outcome. Still, he may have opened the door to a challenge. Even as he voted to certify the results, he said he was disturbed that the results shifted for a few days after the Nov. 5 election — leading to see-sawing leads for the candidates — as errors were found and provisional ballots counted. Would he have preferred that the errors were ignored and the provisional ballots undercounted?

The most substantive of his objections is the ostensible lack of uniformity in handling provisional ballots. Specifically, a relative handful of voters in heavily Democratic Fairfax County were given a week more than voters elsewhere to make the case that their provisional ballots should be counted.

But Fairfax officials did not extend the state-mandated deadline for provisional ballots for voters who lacked proper IDs. They extended it for those who cast provisional ballots for other reasons, such as confusion over registrations. Nothing in state law forbade that extension, and Fairfax election officials, including a Republican, have defended it. And there is no evidence that the extension altered the race’s outcome.

Republicans need to think hard about that. Overturning the certified results of an election on flimsy grounds is the work of banana republics, not U.S. states.

 
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