Although visibly pleased that the balloting illustrated how "every single person's vote counts," Martha W. Hendley learned that she has officially lost one of the county's closest elections.
A recount this week of the June 8 Republican primary for the Gainesville seat on the Board of County Supervisors decided, again, that incumbent Edgar S. Wilbourn III won by 11 votes. Wilbourn squeaked by with a 1,223-to-1,212 victory. Although nothing changed between the June 8 tally and the official recount Wednesday morning in Prince William County Circuit Court, both Hendley and Wilbourn appeared relieved that their race had ended.
"It certainly brings finality to it," Wilbourn said outside the courtroom, standing with Hendley as she congratulated him. "It will be at least two weeks before I start campaigning for the next round."
Wilbourn will face Democrat Gary C. Friedman on the Nov. 2 ballot.
The recount ended what many thought to be a formality. When it was learned that there were just four votes in contention, there was little chance that Wilbourn's lead would be erased.
Hendley had at first said, through her attorney, that there was a possibility that felons had voted in the primary, which theoretically could have voided the vote. But election officials determined that no illegitimate ballots had been counted.
What was left to recount essentially fell to 71 absentee ballots, out of which four had been contested because a machine had trouble reading them. In the end, state statute invalidated the four votes because they could not be read by a scanner.
Both candidates said the votes would have made virtually no difference in the final tally. Two were for candidate Kevin Childers, and one was for Hendley. One ballot did not cast a vote for a candidate.
"The whole point of this was to open the absentee ballots," Hendley said. "Without this formal process, we never would have been able to look at them at all."
Wilbourn and Hendley said that the state would have to revise the election statutes to allow jurisdictions to accept ballots that cannot be read by scanners, a move that both said could happen only through legislative measures.
Absentee ballots are read by a scanning machine, and if they are incorrectly marked, they cannot be counted.
"I think this ultimately could end up helping the state," Wilbourn said. "It's good that we got a chance to take a look at this issue."
A three-judge panel accepted the final tally Wednesday, certifying it after election officials worked for less than an hour processing vote totals from the 11 voting districts and the absentee ballots.
Hendley won just two precincts but in each she garnered relatively large victories. In the Evergreen precinct, she beat Wilbourn by 116 votes. In the Catharpin precinct, she won by 108.
Although Wilbourn took the other nine precincts, his largest margin of victory in any single precinct was 48.
Both Hendley and Wilbourn finished the election with just more than 41 percent of the vote, with Childers winning about 17 percent. Childers, who like Hendley advocates slow-growth in the county, was widely viewed as a spoiler in the race, taking about 500 votes that likely would have favored Hendley.
"I'm confident that the results are what they are," Hendley said. "I'm congratulating Mr. Wilbourn on his win. Now, I think I need a vacation."