Senate Challenger to Seek Recount
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Virginia's tightest General Assembly race of the year, for a state Senate seat from Fairfax County, is headed into overtime.
Democrat Janet S. Oleszek, trailing Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R) by about a quarter of a percentage point in unofficial returns, announced yesterday that she will seek a recount of the more than 37,000 votes cast in the Nov. 6 election. Ninety-two votes separate the two candidates.
The result in District 37 will not decide who controls the chamber. Democrats, after winning at least four seats last week, took control of the 40-seat Senate with a 21-seat majority. But Oleszek said that if she overcomes the whisker-thin deficit, adding to the majority, the party will be better able to support the agenda of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) in his final two years in office. Republicans kept control of the House of Delegates.
For a week, Oleszek had been largely out of public view as she deliberated whether to ask for a recount.
"I have done a lot of soul-searching about this, and it was not an easy decision," she said in a telephone interview. "I have been contacted by hundreds of supporters asking me to call for a recount, and I still didn't jump in. I couldn't just frivolously ask for a recount."
She said she had weighed the possibility of prevailing in a "very important race" against the taxpayer expense and effort.
State law entitles any candidate to ask for a taxpayer-funded recount if the margin of victory is less than half a percentage point.
Cuccinelli remained confident yesterday, calling Oleszek's effort "desperate." He maintained that the results of a local canvass last week, which checked the accuracy of vote totals, gave him a sense that his lead will stick.
"Let me put it this way: We have a victory party scheduled for Saturday, and this isn't making us change it," Cuccinelli said. "It's just desperate to try and drag this out."
Cuccinelli said Oleszek should follow the lead of former U.S. senator George Allen. The Virginia Republican declined to ask for a recount last year after he narrowly lost his seat to Democrat James Webb.
"She has the right to do it, but they don't have any basis to think that anything was done incorrectly," Cuccinelli said.
Recent recounts suggest that Oleszek faces an uphill battle. Two years ago, Democrat R. Creigh Deeds trailed Republican Robert F. McDonnell by 323 votes in the state attorney general's race. A recount determined that Deeds lost by 360 votes of 1.94 million cast statewide. In 1999, Democrat Leslie L. Byrne led state Sen. Jane H. Woods (Fairfax) by 37 votes going into a recount, but the Republican incumbent picked up only a couple of votes.
Asked if she thought she would be able to overtake Cuccinelli, given the outcomes of those recounts, Oleszek said, "I would not do this if I didn't feel I had a shot." She pointed to Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax), who in 1991 overcame a deficit during a recount and won by a single vote.
To start the process, Oleszek said she will file a petition requesting a recount with the Fairfax County Circuit Court after the State Board of Elections certifies the results at the end of the month. She has 10 days after certification to do so. A special panel of state judges will be set up to monitor the recount. Electronically tabulated ballots make up the majority of ballots. Under state law, recount officials review those votes using printouts. A smaller number of votes -- such as absentee ballots -- were tabulated on paper, and those will be recounted by hand, Fairfax County officials said.
It is the county, not the state, that will set up the recount and bear the expense, largely for paying election workers. Officials said it would probably not cost more than a couple hundred dollars.
Even though Democrats will control the Senate, Cuccinelli's seat is considered important to the GOP's conservative wing. Cuccinelli, an outspoken and experienced lawmaker, said he will be part of an effort to challenge the Senate Republican leadership. In addition, a Cuccinelli victory would leave Republicans with one Senate seat in Fairfax.