Mark Obenshain orders a recount while Mark Herring prepares for new job


    Cross-posted from that paragon of journalism and reporting Richmond Progressive Examiner.

    Much to the surprise of interested onlookers (*sarcasm*), state Senator Mark D. Obenshain formally requested a recount on Tuesday in what has become a “historically tight race for Virginia attorney general.”

    The results of the November 5th election for Virginia Attorney General were certified by the Virginia State Board of Elections on Monday. State Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun) was announced the victor by 165 votes, making the 2013 election for attorney general the closest Virginia political contest in “modern Virginia history” (however “modern” is defined).

    Meanwhile, state Sen. Herring announced the five co-chairmen of his inaugural committee, another unforeseen action (*sarcasm again*) that signals Herring’s own expectation of becoming Virginia’s next attorney general. According to a statement made on Tuesday by Sen. Herring, “It is within Senator Obenshain’s right to pursue electoral victory to an ultimate conclusion beyond the original count, canvass and certification.” Herring went on, “His tactics, however, will not impede our efforts to build the finest team to serve all Virginians in the Office of Attorney General or prepare for the 2014 legislative session.”

    Indeed, Obenshain is well within his political rights to request a recount. Sen. Herring would undoubtedly have done the same were he in Obenshain’s position. The more important question at this juncture is what action(s) Sen. Obenshain will take if the recount returns the same result?

    Some have argued that Obenshain will act honorably, but Obenshain is not the only factor in this equation, even if he is the most important factor. Another significant variable in this complex equation of power politics is the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV), an institution that is no doubt reluctant to easily concede a clean sweep by the Democratic Party on Election Day. The RPV could well influence what actions Obenshain takes if the vote count is upheld.

    As to Obenshain’s own honor or that of the Republican Party, I question anyone who believes any politician or institution on the right of the political spectrum is willing to put the country ahead of its own self-interests. I’d like to believe that Obenshain is such a politician, but recent actions by elected Republican representatives of Virginia and the U.S. have left me a bit jaded on this point.

    • unstablefan

      How long the recount is expected to take?

    • va_lady2008

      to expect the GOP to do anything to swing an election.  Send it to the Supreme Court?  No problem.  Disenfranchise oompty thousand registered voters?  Why, we’re trying to prevent (nonexistent) fraud.  Spend taxpayer’s money on the time they use raising funds for a challenge?  Hey, it’s the Cucch way.  It’s sad, it really is, that this level of divisiveness has crept into Virginia politics, and I even see it spreading here in normally civil NoVa.  The Republicans will eventually “come around” and realize they can no longer disenfranchise pretty much everyone except old angry white men, but all of the rest of us will have bold memories of how they behaved while they could.

      Rebuilding is going to take time.  A long time.  And Cucch is delaying the start date.

    • linda b

      They are going to rescan the actual paper ballots. I see no way they are going actually read the down ballots. Why? That is not the stated process.

    • Glen Tomkins

      This recount is unlikely to change the vote totals by much except for one particular type of vote.  Most votes have already been counted, and had any conflict or uncertainty over their counting already resolved during the certification of the unofficial results weeks ago.

      But there is one big pile of votes not yet counted.  People are talking about as many as 25-50 thousand as yet uncounted votes, votes that have not been counted because optical scanners could not discern any vote for either candidate in the AG race on these ballots.  In the recount, the ballots will be run through the scanners again, and those that the scanners could not read as voting for either AG candidate, will be inspected, for the first time,  by election officials for marks that the scanner couldn’t interpret as a vote, but that people can.


      Now, if everyone in the Commonwealth had voted on optical scanners, the votes rescued in this way by human interpretation would fall to either candidate by the same amazingly close percentage difference as the overall difference in this election.  Tiny chance differences could put either candidate ahead at the end.

      But only a bit less than a third of the Commonwealth voted by paper ballots read by optical scanners, the rest voting on touch screens, with no possibility of rescuing their undervotes.  And that third is not randomly distributed.  Areas of the state that voted R tended to vote on touch screens, and areas that voted D voted much more often on paper ballots.

      If Herring did 60% to Obenshain’s 40% in the area that voted by optical scan, the baseline assumption has to be that Herring will pick up the rescued undervotes by the same margin, 60/40.  Maybe there are factors that would make Obenshain voters somewhat more likely to mark ballots in ways that machines can’t read but humans can.  But it is not remotely realistic to imagine that there is a dynamic  out there that would be anywhere large enough to overcome a 60/40 deficit.

      Depending on how many paper ballot undervotes there really are out there, then how many of those can be rescued by hand counting and human inspection, and then exactly how large the Herring/Obenshain vote ratio is in the optically scanned third of VA, Herring could pick up anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand votes.  Even at the low end, that’s big enough to swamp any other source of uncounted or miscounted votes Obenshain could hope to find out there.

      Why did Obenshain do it, why did he go ahead with this recount?  Barring some major surprise, some trove of hundreds to a few thousand votes in his favor that he has identified somewhere, he’s going to end the recount further behind.  He’s going to transform a razor-thin, one-for-the-record-books, margin of loss, into a much more everyday level of being beaten in an election.  That can only worsen his stock for consideration for future nominations.  I can’t see any ulterior motive, as an increased margin of loss will really put the nail in the coffin of any idea of the GA giving him the race on the already thin grounds that Fairfax gave its provisional voters too many days to defend their vote.