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Ballot Machine Malfunctions, Fairfax Race Left in Limbo

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A voting machine broke down last night as Fairfax County elections officials were tallying the results of a hotly contested special election to fill a vacant seat on the board of supervisors, leaving the outcome too close to call.

Republican John Cook held on to a 69-vote lead over Democrat Ilryong Moon with 24 of the district's 25 precincts reporting and about 12,000 votes cast. The outcome boiled down to the votes from the Fairview precinct in Fairfax Station, where elections officials encountered technical problems with one of the two voting machines.

Elections officials halted their efforts, sealed the malfunctioning machine and said they would resume their efforts to count the remaining ballots today.

Both men, along with independent candidate Carey C. Campbell, were vying to succeed Sharon Bulova, who represented the Braddock district for 21 years and was elected chairman of the board last month.

The precinct where the outcome remained unresolved voted 57 percent for Bulova in the recent race for the chairman's seat and supported President Obama with about 57 percent of the vote. Officials from both parties said the board of supervisors outcome may warrant a recount.

"I would have preferred to know the results tonight, but we just have to wait and see," Cook said. "I think it's going to be close, but I'd rather be in our position than his position."

Moon said he, too, is optimistic about his chances because of the precinct's Democratic tilt. "It's unfortunate we had a problem with the computer because we were expecting a victory," he said. "We just have to wait until they are finished."

Anthony Bedell, chairman of the county Republican committee, said that, regardless of the outcome, the unofficial results show Republicans "are viable and very competitive in Fairfax County."

Scott Surovell, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, said he was "disappointed it wasn't more decisive, however the Braddock supervisor seat is probably the third-most-Republican seat in the county. It's a place where we have to fight for every vote, and in special elections it can be unpredictable as well."

A victory for Cook would bolster Republicans seeking to reverse the Democratic tide in Northern Virginia. A win for Moon would make him the board's first Asian American member. Campbell was a distant third in the race yesterday.

Moon, 51, is an at-large member of the School Board. He has energized education advocates, as well as fellow Korean Americans and other immigrants eager to see him become the first Asian American on the county board. About one in four Fairfax County residents is foreign-born, and about 16 percent of the county is Asian, but no immigrants serve on the board.

Cook, 45, drew strong support from people familiar with his work as president of the Kings Park Civic Association. He is credited with increasing membership of the association, which represents about 1,100 households, and launching a successful community revitalization effort.

"I think he's going to be better at constituent services," said Marilyn Jackson, 56, a county librarian who cast her ballot at Robinson High School.

Among the first challenges for the next supervisor will be the budget. County officials are likely to take aim at the libraries as they seek to close a $650 million gap in next year's spending plan, but Jackson, who identifies herself as a Democrat, said she is more concerned about the immediate problems in her neighborhood, including late-night parties and parking problems. "That's what's driving my vote this time," she said.

Turnout appeared to exceed the predictions of county elections officials, with more than 18 percent of registered voters casting ballots.

"It's slow but steady out there," said Rokey W. Suleman II, the Fairfax general registrar, during voting hours. Special elections typically do not generate much interest, but the two leading candidates had blanketed the district with yellow Moon and red Cook signs.

Republicans were hopeful that Cook could help them claim another seat on the 10-member board, which has two GOP members. They are buoyed by recent special elections in which Republicans made strong showings in heavily Democratic areas, including last month's chairman's race, in which Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) narrowly lost to Bulova.

But Republicans faced an uphill battle against Moon, who raised more money than Cook and has Bulova's endorsement in the Democrat-leaning district.

Some voters said they were supporting Moon out of party loyalty. Others were inspired by his personal story. Moon immigrated to the United States from South Korea at 17 and attended Harvard University before getting his law degree.

"I think it's a good opportunity for an Asian American to serve the county," said Jeffrey Milstein, 69, a retired federal worker. "I think there is too much immigrant bashing, not just in the country but in Virginia, too."

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