he third electoral foul-up reported this year in Virginia's "Fighting Ninth " congressional district -- are holding up official confirmation of Democratic state Sen. Frederick Boucher's victory over nine-term Republican congressman William Wampler.
U.S.District Judge Glen Williams issued a temporary restraining order barring election officials from counting ballots cast at the Dryden School in Lee County. Republican Party officials, who sought the order, were inspecting the machine at the school yesterday to check for irregularities.
Wampler, senior member of Virginia's House delegation, said he did not suspect fraud in the Dryden precinct. He has said he will not concede until the final count is in. An aide yesterday said a recount is still possible if Boucher's margin of victory is less than one percent -- or about 1,500 -- votes.
By yesterday, the unofficial tally put Boucher 1,138 votes ahead. Boucher, 36, who ran a campaign hitting hard at national Republican policies, claimed victory at a press conference Wednesday.
More than 150,000 of the southwestern Virginia district's 218,537 registered voters went to the polls Tuesday.
George Roberts, senior election official at the Dryden precinct, said the problem there began when a voter, apparently under the influence of alcohol, came in and voted five times. "He jerked the thing around and jammed it up," said Roberts.
A repair man was called in but the machine continued to show a higher count than the number of people who voted, said Roberts. Democrats said yesterday the initial count at the Dryden School showed 300 votes for Boucher and 224 for Wampler.
"I don't know how they're going to resolve the problem," said General Registrar Doris McConnell. "I don't know how they'll be able to decide how much each candidate got because they can't open the machine."
The problem in Lee was the latest in a series of electoral mishaps in the Ninth. A jammed voting machine in Montgomery County caused the first delay. Those votes were counted by Wednesday morning, but by that time election officials in Wise County reported a clerical error that had cost Boucher 1,000 votes.
Until the late 1960s, the mountainous Ninth District, with its tradition of fierce partisan politics, had a reputation for voting fraud, typically centering around absentee ballots. Procedural reforms have practically eliminated the problem since then.
Yesterday, the Wampler campaign said it was investigating complaints in several counties, including Lee. "We are checking on those things right now," said campaign manager Gordon Lindamood. Wampler is expected to announce his decision to concede or call for a recount today, said Lindamood.