Washingtonpost.com by Ben Pershing
RICHMOND — The recount of Virginia’s exceedingly tight race for attorney general will happen the week of Dec. 16, a Richmond judge ruled Wednesday, as lawyers for the two candidates sparred over the procedures that will govern the ballot tally and the crucial days leading up to it.
State Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun) edged state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) by 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast, the State Board of Elections certified last week, the closest statewide margin in Virginia history and one that entitled Obenshain to ask for a recount paid for by localities.
A handful of Republicans have already raised questions about the way ballots were counted around the state, particularly in Fairfax, and will be watching the recount even more closely for irregularities.
Virginia law allows the loser of a race to contest the result in the General Assembly, with the winner decided by a joint session of the state House and Senate that would feature a hefty Republican majority. Obenshain’s team has not said whether it would pursue that option if he remains behind when the recount concludes.
Under Virginia law, the recount will be overseen by a special court, and the lead judge — Beverly W. Snukals of the Richmond Circuit Court — heard from both sides Wednesday before issuing some preliminary rulings to get the ball rolling.
Fairfax County, the most populous locality by a wide margin, will begin its recount on Monday, Dec. 16, while the rest of the state will commence Dec. 17. The recount court — which will include Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Junius P. Fulton III and Danville Circuit Court Judge Joseph W. Milam Jr., as well as Snukals — will begin examining the results from localities and review challenged ballots Dec. 19 in hopes of concluding the entire process by Dec. 20.
Before the counting begins, election officials across the state will race to test their equipment and make sure they’re prepared for that busy week.
“There’s going to be a lot of activity between now and Christmas, and it’s not all going to be Christmas shopping,” said Herring attorney Kevin J. Hamilton.
Obenshain lawyer William H. Hurd consistently pushed Wednesday for procedures that would likely result in more challenged ballots and more potential avenues for the loser to challenge the final numbers. Hamilton asked for faster proceedings and less disclosure of election materials from each locality.
While the two campaigns were able to agree on several issues before the hearing, they split on some key questions, including the role that will be played by the recount observers stationed by both campaigns in every jurisdiction to watch the ballot counting.
Hurd argued that the observers should be able to suggest to local recount officials – in most localities, the Republican chair and Democratic secretary of the electoral board – whether a ballot should be challenged and sent to Richmond for review by the court. Hamilton said that could interfere with the process and allow partisan observers to dictate to election officials how to handle each ballot.
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