After seven weeks of confusing legal maneuvers and bitter debate over alleged polling irregularities, incumbent Rebecca L. Reed will keep her seat on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, according to a ruling from a special court of three Circuit Court judges.
With victory in hand after the ruling Friday, this should be the final word on the subject, Reed and her attorney said yesterday.
Don't count on it, vowed challenger M.A. Fagan, who had sought a new election.
"I have several avenues available to me, which I am not able to comment on now . . . . I'll take this to the Supreme Court if I have to," said Fagan, adding that he is down but far from out.
That, in fact, is exactly where Reed was when she lost the Nov. 5 election by two votes. The incumbent demanded a recount.
The recount, supervised by three judges not involved in Friday's decision, disallowed one of Fagan's votes because the voter had marked a box for Reed, then crossed it out, written "mistake" in the margin, and marked the box for Fagan.
"Unfortunately, this person did not do it in a very neat fashion," Reed's attorney, Thomas L. Bricken, said. "Under Virginia law, that qualifies as a defaced ballot . . . . Out it goes."
The judges agreed, and Fagan, who had served a controversial term on the County Board in the 1970s, lost a vote. The judges ruled that the absentee ballot of Reed's son, stationed with the Navy in Texas, was valid. Reed gained a vote, and the election was a tie, with each candidate holding 1,184 votes.
The panel ruled the contest would be settled by drawing a lot, and on Dec. 5, that lot was drawn in Reed's favor.
Fagan was outraged, and his attorney walked from the drawing immediately to the county clerk's office and filed a motion to have the election thrown out before the legal deadline that afternoon.
"To decide an election by drawing a lot is nothing short of gambling. Gambling is illegal in the state of Virginia," Fagan said yesterday.
Before the second panel of judges Friday, Fagan said his attorney argued that a new election should be held because at one precinct people were allowed to cast their vote after the 7 p.m. deadline.
Bricken yesterday conceded this possibility, but he said he told the judges that Fagan's argument was irrelevant, because all votes were in and counted before election workers signed documents officially closing the polls at 7:45 p.m.
The judges Friday sided with Reed. Although Bricken said Fagan's options are exhausted, few in Stafford County imagine that they have heard the last of the outspoken Fagan. "I feel that my constitutional rights have been denied . . . . I'm not giving up," he said.