Republican Wins Close Fairfax Race in Delayed Count

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009

Republican John Cook defied recent political trends in Northern Virginia by narrowly defeating Democrat Ilryong Moon in the race to fill an open seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, elections officials announced yesterday after completing a vote count delayed by a malfunctioning voting machine.

Cook captured the Braddock District seat by 89 votes out of more than 13,000 cast in Tuesday's contest, according to the official results.

"I am honored to have been selected by my Braddock District neighbors to serve as their next supervisor," Cook said a few minutes after the outcome was announced. "I look forward to bringing new and innovative ideas to the problems we face and bringing fiscal responsibility to our county government."

Cook, 45, a lawyer and president of the Kings Park Civic Association, has never held elected office but received strong support from neighbors who were familiar with his work revitalizing neighborhoods and cleaning up blighted and unkempt properties.

He succeeds Sharon Bulova (D), who last month became chairman of the board. Also in the race was independent Carey C. Campbell.

Moon, an at-large School Board member, said he will not challenge the results, despite the technical difficulties and even though the close vote allows him to request a recount under state law. Moon, an immigrant from South Korea, was trying to become the board's first Asian American member.

"Braddock District's residents need someone to represent them on the Board of Supervisors to start working on important issues such as the budget and transportation as soon as possible," Moon said in a statement. "I do not want to cause any delay."

Virginia Republicans, stung by a tide of Democratic victories, rejoiced in yesterday's news, which they said bodes well for their ability to maintain their majority in the House of Delegates and retake the governor's mansion in the fall after two successive Democratic administrations.

"The Republican Party is alive and well," Cook said.

Although Democrats have twice won races for governor and U.S. Senate, this is the third consecutive special election in which the Republican candidate exceeded expectations. Cook's win is being read as an encouraging sign by Republicans, who say pundits have misinterpreted the recent trends. Virginia is not on the cusp of becoming a blue state, they say.

Democrats, meanwhile, say it is a mistake to draw conclusions from special elections, which can be unpredictable because of low turnout.

"Obviously the party is going to want to analyze what happened and why," Bulova said. "But a special election is just a different animal from a regular election in November."

Cook will join two other Republicans on the 10-member Board of Supervisors, which is still dominated by Democrats. Cook's presence will add another voice to the effort to hold down taxes and end the county practice of buying up housing to keep it affordable. He will have to get up to speed quickly -- the county is grappling with its worst budget season in years.

Moon had more money than Cook and has spent 10 years on the School Board. He was also endorsed by Bulova, who remains a popular figure in the district. Some supporters privately speculate that he was unable to rally his core supporters in the education and Asian American communities and that he did not strike back with enough force when Cook publicly criticized his failure to provide specific ideas for cutting the county budget.

Democrats and Republicans alike expressed unease over the malfunctioning voting machine, which delayed results by a day and brought an army of lawyers and some voting-rights advocates into the county's Office of Elections yesterday.

The problem arose after the polls closed Tuesday, when elections officers tried to print out vote totals from the two touch-screen machines in the Fairview precinct in Fairfax Station. One functioned properly, but the other displayed totals that did not add up to the number of ballots cast.

Yesterday, officials hand-tallied the individual votes, which are recorded by the machine but are not typically printed out. They said they are confident in the results but will retire the machine after determining what went wrong.

The machine, called WINvote, was purchased in 2003 from Advanced Voting Solutions. It is the most prevalent touch-screen voting machine used in Virginia, state elections officials said.

"It's worrisome and frustrating," said Ken Cuccinelli II (Fairfax), Northern Virginia's only Republican state senator and a candidate for attorney general. He said, however: "In this particular case we were able to pull the accurate information out."

Yesterday afternoon, Cuccinelli was present as Cook strode triumphantly into the county government center to declare victory.

Cook said his success shows that voters have not renounced the GOP, but he said the party must remake itself to appeal to voters who care about street-level issues.

"Part of what we have done these past five weeks is show a path as to how the Republican Party can better govern, and therefore better run campaigns," Cook said.

Researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company