2 Camps Turn Focus to Rules In Va. Recount

From left, Tom Garrett, Lee E. Goodman, Jeff Palmore, Matt Addison and Janet Polarek work on recount preparations for Del. Robert F. McDonnell.
From left, Tom Garrett, Lee E. Goodman, Jeff Palmore, Matt Addison and Janet Polarek work on recount preparations for Del. Robert F. McDonnell. (Robert A. Reeder - Twp)
By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 5, 2005

Among the many ways in which Virginia is unlike Florida is that its election recounts are not chaotic affairs.

After the messy presidential election of 2000, state regulations were rewritten to put a clear procedure in place and to specify exactly what makes a ballot eligible. Dimpled punch-card ballots were decreed invalid. Hanging chads count.

Such arcane rules are helping to maintain an orderly pace as election officials prepare for the first statewide recount in 16 years.

Sometime this month, the 1.94 million ballots cast in the Nov. 8 attorney general's election will be reviewed. Republican Del. Robert F. McDonnell has been certified as the winner, but just barely. He won by 323 votes over Democratic Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, who requested the recount.

"We are not going to make up rules about how to count votes after the election," said Camille LaCognata, voting equipment manager for the State Board of Elections, which has been overrun with calls from both camps seeking clarification of the rules.

"You're not going to see Democrats seeing more votes for Democrats and Republicans seeing more votes for Republicans. It's already been rewritten up in our policies and procedures. It takes all the partisan bickering out of it."

Well, not all.

Tomorrow, attorneys for both sides will appear before Theodore J. Markow, chief judge of the Richmond Circuit Court, for a preliminary hearing to iron out details of the recount. A second hearing will be scheduled before Markow and two other Circuit Court judges -- Wilford Taylor Jr. of Hampton and Larry B. Kirksey of Bristol -- who were appointed by the state Supreme Court to supervise.

McDonnell and Deeds say they hope the recount will be completed before Christmas. Their legal strategists say they expect it to occur over one or two days during the week of Dec. 19.

It is up to the three-judge panel to set the date and determine how extensive the recount will be.

Four types of voting machines were used in the election, complicating matters. Voters in most of the state used optical scanners, touch screens or lever machines. But in Virginia Beach, they voted on punch cards. Highland County used paper ballots in its nine precincts.

Not every ballot will be recounted.

Individual ballots cannot be recounted on touch-screen and lever machines, but the results can be double-checked from printouts. It will be up to the recount judges to decide whether to rerun ballots through the optical scanners and punch-card machines, or just to check results on the tabulators.

The technology makes the process more streamlined than it was during the last statewide recount: the 1989 gubernatorial race, when Democrat L. Douglas Wilder defeated Republican J. Marshall Coleman by nearly 7,000 votes. The recount changed 113 votes in Coleman's favor, but Wilder won.

This time, the two teams are concentrating on finding volunteers from the Nov. 8 election who are available the week before Christmas to spend a day or two working the recount. Each team also has to make sure that hundreds of people representing their interests will work as observers in each of the 134 localities across the state where the recount will occur.

"There isn't a whole lot to do other than literally pulling people together," said Larry Framme, who is on Deeds's team.

John Phillippe, a spokesman for McDonnell, said the Republican's team is still making lists of volunteers.

"We need to ensure there's somebody to be on the lookout for any problems so the result from the recount truly reflects the voters' choice," he said.

Though most of the recounting is likely to be completed in one day, state law requires local election officials to hand the results to State Police, who carry them to Richmond for the final tally.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company