State Sen. Mark R. Herring padded his still-narrow lead over state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain on Tuesday night in the race for Virginia attorney general, giving the Democrat an apparent 163-vote advantage before the results of the contest are certified.
The Fairfax County Electoral Board finished reviewing provisional ballots – mostly cast by people who did not have ID or went to the wrong polling place – and added 160 votes to Herring’s (Loudoun) total and 103 votes to the Republican’s. Herring already led on the State Board of Elections Web site by 106 votes.
The additional 57-vote margin from Fairfax was expected to give Herring a statewide lead of 163 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast – barring any last-minute changes from other localities, which had until 11:59 pm Tuesday to submit their numbers to the state election board.
A recount appears all but certain after the statewide results are certified Nov. 25, and the Obenshain campaign made clear that it considers the race far from over. “We owe it to the people of Virginia to make sure we get it right, and that every legitimate vote is counted and subject to uniform rules,” Obenshain (Harrisonburg) said in a statement.
Herring, by contrast, treated his victory as assured in a campaign statement.
“Voters in Virginia have spoken, their voices have been heard and I am honored to have won their votes and their trust to become Virginia’s next Attorney General,” Herring said. “Over the course of the past week, a thorough and extensive process has ensured that every vote has been tallied and accounted for.’’
The margins in the race have fluctuated since the polls closed a week ago. Obenshain’s narrow lead on election night disappeared and then grew again to more than 1,200 votes.
Herring took the lead after Fairfax County found that more than 3,000 votes had not been properly counted on election night and Richmond discovered that a voting machine’s results had not been included in its tallies.
Republicans said Tuesday night that they were unhappy with the way Fairfax had handled the 493 provisional ballots cast there. Fairfax gave voters who wanted to appear in person to argue for the validity of their ballots until 1 p.m. Tuesday to do so. Other jurisdictions had observed a Friday deadline.
Republican attorney Miller Baker, who had been observing the screening of provisional votes, formally objected to the results before the Fairfax Electoral Board voted Tuesday. He said the equal-protection rights of other provisional voters were violated because voters in Fairfax County had more time to testify to the legitimacy of their ballots.
“These in-person interviews have made a difference,” Baker said. “Voters in Bedford, Richmond, Charlottesville and Danville were not given the same opportunity.”
Baker commended the Fairfax electoral board for trying to get the most accurate results, but he argued that the board should hold off on formally reporting the results.
“We should make certain that every legitimate vote is being counted and we are getting it right,” he said. “They are trying to do the right thing, but regrettably that has not occurred.”
Brian W. Schoeneman, one of two Republicans on the three-member Fairfax board, said the board was trying to be thorough and chose to exercise its right under Virginia’s election code to postpone reporting results on provisional ballots.
“We have exercised that discretion,” he said. “That electoral boards across the Commonwealth have chosen not to exercise that discretion has not presented an equal protection issue. There are no other jurisdictions the size of Fairfax County, and we are committed to getting it right.”