BY STEPHANIE TIPPLE
After the final midnight-count of the provisional ballots in the 2013 Virginia election cycle, Mark Herring, the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, pulled ahead with a very small margin this Tuesday, earning 1,103,618 votes, according to the Virginia Board of Elections website.
Closely behind Herring was his Republican opponent, Mark Obenshain, with 1,103,512 votes.
“In Virginia you can cast a ballot, and election officials can determine later, whether or not you’re legitimately registered,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies.
Provisional ballots are often granted when a person does not have adequate identification, is unsure of their correct polling location, or if there is a discrepancy for those that have moved and have not updated their voter ID card. Typically, the margin for an election does not fall so squarely on provisional votes, but the Attorney General’s race proved differently.
“In an election of 2.2 million, right now we’re looking at less than 200 vote difference,” said Farnsworth.
Now that the provisional ballots are accounted for, the state has a few weeks to make calculations about results before there can be a recount requested, according to Farnsworth.
In order for a recount to occur, the losing candidate in the Attorney General’s race would have to request it. This recount, which will be overseen by the courts, would be paid for by the state if the difference between the vote percentages is less than 0.5%, and paid for by the losing candidate if the difference is more than 0.5%.
While the next several weeks will be difficult for both candidates while the state makes calculations, several issues have come to light concerning the handling of counting provisional ballots.
One issue surrounds the State Board of Elections, which is within Cuccinelli’s oversight as the current Attorney General. The Board issued a memo shortly after the election to end the current practice in Fairfax County, where a lawyer was allowed to advocate for a provisional vote to be counted.
“Any effort to try to make it harder for those provisional ballots to be counted would help the Republicans. It’s yet another example of why election authorities should not be appointed by political figures,” said Farnsworth. “You have a situation where people who have a direct stake in the outcome–that is, highly partisan individuals–are making these decisions rather than professionals.”
Even though the situation in this race is considered rare, it is not completely without precedent. Eight years ago the Attorney General’s race faced another recount because there were under 500 votes separating the candidates. In that instance, the recount showed between a 40 and 50 vote difference, according to Farnsworth.
Farnsworth said it is unlikely that there will be any major shifts, but if it comes within the margin of a recount, it could change an outcome.