Ar­ling­ton bar codes stud­ied for source of vote prob­lems

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY MERED­ITH SOMERS DAVID SHERFINSKI

Elec­tions of­fi­cials in Ar­ling­ton ac­knowl­edged Wednes­day that the county’s elec­toral board ac­cepted more than a dozen pro­vi­sional bal­lots in which a voter’s name had been checked off mis­tak­enly as al­ready hav­ing voted, a dis­crep­ancy ap­par­ently chalked up to er­rors by poll work­ers.

Reg­is­trar Linda Lind­berg said a new sys­tem us­ing bar codes this year might have con­fused poll work­ers and caused IDs to be scanned more than once. She said of­fi­cials in the heav­ily Demo­cratic county are look­ing more specif­i­cally into the source of the is­sue.

The un­cer­tainty over a re­ported 17 bal­lots — or­di­nar­ily a mi­nor anom­aly in a race in which 2.2 mil­lion bal­lots have been cast statewide — takes on added sig­nif­i­cance in a Vir­ginia at­tor­ney gen­eral’s race in which just 164 votes sep­a­rate the two can­di­dates.

With all ju­ris­dic­tions re­port­ing re­sults by the mid­night Tues­day dead­line, the State Board of Elec­tions said Wednes­day that Demo­crat Mark R. Her­ring took 1,103,777

votes com­pared with 1,103,613 for Repub­li­can Mark D. Oben­shain. Mr. Her­ring de­clared vic­tory, lead­ing to pos­tur­ing from both cam­paigns.

Mr. Oben­shain said dur­ing an af­ter­noon news con­fer­ence in Rich­mond that it would be fool­hardy to claim a win at this stage of a his­tor­i­cally tight race, not­ing that 123 votes shifted dur­ing can­vass­ing by the state board in the course of a con­test for at­tor­ney gen­eral in 2005 that ul­ti­mately was de­cided by 360 votes.

“That kind of swing could change the out­come of this race,” Mr. Oben­shain said. “I don’t know who is go­ing to move into the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice in Jan­uary, and de­spite what Mark Her­ring says, he doesn’t know ei­ther.”

The Repub­li­can said it was too soon even to call for a re­count, with the state hav­ing un­til Nov. 25 to cer­tify the re­sults. He also sug­gested that if Mr. Her­ring be­lieved his vic­tory was as­sured, he would re­sign his state Se­nate seat.

“I un­der­stand he is ahead at the sec­ond stage of this au­to­matic process,” Mr. Oben­shain said. “But ac­tions speak louder than words, and rather than put forth a sense of bravado it would be­hoove us all to wait and see the to­tal at the end.”

Nev­er­the­less, both cam­paigns on Wednes­day named tran­si­tion teams as they pre­pare for a fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion of the win­ner.

Only af­ter the re­sults are cer­ti­fied by the state can the los­ing can­di­date call for a re­count. The mar­gin must be less than 1 per­cent of the vote, and the can­di­date has 10 days to make the call. Mr. Oben­shain said the dif­fer­ence in votes be­tween him­self and Mr. Her­ring amounted to 0.007 per­cent of the votes cast last week.

Dur­ing a count of pro­vi­sional bal­lots in Fair­fax County on Tues­day, Repub­li­can at­tor­neys ex­pressed con­cern that elec­tion laws were ap­plied un­evenly through­out the com­mon­wealth.

De­spite the slim mar­gin, Mr. Oben­shain on Wednes­day would not com­mit to any le­gal re­course — or even a re­count — un­til the board cer­ti­fies the votes.

“I think it would be pre­ma­ture for stat­ing my in­ten­tion to call for a re­count or to file a law­suit or any other con­crete plans un­til we know what the state board of elec­tions con­cluded,” he said.

Mr. Oben­shain’s hes­i­tance on ac­tion might not be en­tirely with­out merit. Glitches or over­sights — like the kind that might have oc­curred in Ar­ling­ton — are the pur­pose of the re­view of ev­ery bal­lot cast last week, said Michael P. McDon­ald, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Mason Univer­sity’s Depart­ment of Pub­lic and In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs.

He said not calling for a re­count would be neg­li­gent on the part of which­ever can­di­date ends up be­hind af­ter the state cer­ti­fies the vote.

“That’s what a re­count is all about,” Mr. McDon­ald said. “Make sure all the i’s are dot­ted, all the t’s are ab­so­lutely crossed, and there’s no pos­si­bil­ity there’s any­thing else out there we don’t know about. It’s go­ing to be close from this point right here.”

When a re­count is called, the State Board of Elec­tions first sets the stan­dards for the han­dling, se­cu­rity and ac­cu­racy of the tally. A three-mem­ber “re­count court” is formed in Rich­mond and is headed by the chief judge of the Rich­mond Cir­cuit Court. Two ad­di­tional cir­cuit court judges are ap­pointed to the board by the chief jus­tice of the Vir­ginia Supreme Court.

The re­count court sets the stan­dards for de­ter­min­ing the ac­cu­racy of the votes and cer­ti­fies the elec­tion re­sults. Its rul­ing is fi­nal and can­not be ap­pealed, ac­cord­ing to Vir­ginia law.

Pa­per bal­lots are re­counted by hand, the print­outs from elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines are re­viewed, and the op­ti­cal scan tab­u­la­tors are re­run through a pro­gram that counts only the votes for the race be­ing scru­ti­nized.

John Hardin Young, an elec­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion lawyer who was part of Al Gore’s le­gal team dur­ing the re­count of the dis­puted pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Florida in 2000, said that de­spite the time needed for a re­count, Vir­ginia “has never had an in­stance where a statewide can­di­date did not take of­fice be­cause of a pend­ing re­count.”

“The tar­get has been Dec. 21 in the past,” he said, adding that if a re­count might seem oner­ous, it’s to be ex­pected in a pur­ple state.

“Where you have close elec­tions is where you have an evenly di­vided state like Vir­ginia, that is not only equally di­vided, but slightly chang­ing,” he said. “That’s what you would ex­pect in a vi­brant democ­racy.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Repub­li­can at­tor­ney gen­eral can­di­date Mark R. Oben­shain an­nounces his tran­si­tion team Wednes­day, hours af­ter Demo­cratic can­di­date Mark R. Her­ring an­nounces his own as both teams await of­fi­cial cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Nov. 25.

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