An announcement this week by the state's brand-new Attorney General offers a stark reminder, once again, of the importance of elections and of the work that The BRAD BLOG has done here for the past 10 years...
At a press conference in Richmond moments ago, late on the third day of a three-day "recount" process in Virginia, state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) conceded this razor-thin race against state Sen. Mark Herring (D) for state Attorney General.
Herring will replace VA's outgoing, far right Republican AG Ken Cuccinelli who lost his own battle for the Governor's office last month.
Obenshain's concession this afternoon comes after what had previously appeared to be the closest statewide race in history. Just 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast had separated the two when the November 5th race was certified by the State Board of Elections late last month. But, by yesterday, Herring's lead had widened to more than 800 votes after two days of what passes for a "recount" in VA (there is no "recount" on touch-screen electronic voting systems used by most voters in the state and most of the paper ballot localities simply re-run the bulk of paper ballots through optical-scan systems again, as per state election code.)
Obenshain's decision means that Democrats will take control of all three statewide offices --- Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General --- for the first time in the Old Dominion since 1969 and the first time in twenty years that a Democrat will control the AG's office there.
It also means that a potentially divisive election contest --- described by some as the "nuclear option" --- will not be invoked by the Republican candidate. Once the "recount" is fully complete on Friday, and all of the very few "challenged ballots" are adjudicated by a three-judge special recount panel in Richmond, Obenshain would have had until Monday to file a contest. Unlike similar post-recount contests elsewhere, in Virginia the matter is not decided by a court of a law, but rather by a majority vote of a joint session of the state legislature, which is currently dominated by Republicans.
With both candidates currently serving as state Senators, a special election to replace either winner of the AG race was going to happen no matter the outcome of the "recount". The only question was which state Senator would need to be replaced. Obenshain's district is believed to be solidly Republican and likely would have stayed that way had he won the AG election. Herring's district, however, is currently seen as a toss-up. While the VA House is predominantly Republican, a GOP victory in the special election to replace Herring in the state Senate would swing the balance of that chamber over to Republicans as well.
Given the way Virginia forces the majority of voters to vote on 100% unverifiable electronic voting systems, and that the majority of votes cast on paper ballots are first tallied and then "recounted" by electronic optical-scan computers (either correctly or incorrectly, who knows?), we'll never know who voters really wanted to win this year's AG race. But this, apparently, is, as they say, "close enough for government work". Voters in VA deserve, and should demand, a much more transparent and overseeable system for the most crucial element of their system of self-governance.
Barring any surprises, Herring will be sworn into office in January, along with Democratic Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe and Lt. Governor-elect Ralph Northam.
The "recount" is not going well so far for Virginia state Senator Mark Obenshain (R). What had been the closest statewide race in history, while still close, is beginning to open up for state Senator Mark Herring (D), who had been previously certified by the State Board of Elections as the "winner" of the November 5th state Attorney General's race.
After two days of what suffices for a "recount" in the Old Dominion's election to replace outgoing Republican AG Ken Cuccinelli, Herring's state-certified 165 vote lead prior to the "recount" expanded to more than 800 votes on Tuesday, out of more than 2.2 million cast. According to the Democrat's campaign, more than 70% of the votes have now been re-tallied across the commonwealth as of Tuesday night. The three-days of re-tallying will end Wednesday, with a three-judge panel in Richmond making the final determinations on any challenged ballots by Friday.
Herring may have hired MN Sen. Al Franken's election recount attorney to represent him in VA, but the three-day affair there, so far, is nothing like the epic six-month-plus post-election hand-count in the 2008 U.S. Senate race between Franken and his Republican opponent Sen. Norm Coleman.
There, every single paper ballot was examined publicly, by hand. The time it took was, in no small part, due to the transparent thoroughness of the counting, but perhaps much more to Coleman's attempts to challenge everything he possibly could, arguably as a way to forestall what would become a very short-lived filibuster-proof Democratic super-majority in the U.S. Senate once Franken was finally seated in July of 2009.
In Virginia, as we've described several times in detail, the "recount" process is barely a count at all, given that most votes in the state are still cast on 100% unverifiable (and unrecountable) Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems. The rest of the votes are cast on paper ballots, but those are tallied by often-inaccurate, easily-gamed optical-scan computer tabulators, either correctly or incorrectly --- without a hand-count, there's no way to know. By Virginia's "recount" statute, almost all of those paper ballots are simply being run through the same optical-scanners again, rather than examined by human beings. The exception is ballots that register no vote for either candidate during the re-scanning. Those are then set aside and examined by hand during the "recount".
But, in a race as close as this one, there are more than enough paper ballots to flip the results from one candidate to the other during such a post-election tally.
In this case, however --- at least as of Tuesday night --- it's not looking good for Obenshain, as Herring is racking up more newly tallied votes than the Republican in almost every locality where there have been any changes to the totals at all...
Election 2013 is but a memory --- good or bad --- for much of the nation. But, in Virginia, election officials, attorneys and partisans will still be busy as elves throughout much of the holiday season, and potentially even beyond, determining final results of the statewide November 5th Attorney General's election this year.
Last week, on the day before Thanksgiving, Virginia's Republican AG candidate Mark Obenshain filed for a recount [PDF] of the incredibly close race at the Richmond Circuit Court. Two days prior, his Democratic challenger Mark Herring had been certified by the state as the winner of the race by just 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million votes cast early last month.
Should those state-certified results hold, Herring would replace Republican Ken Cuccinelli as Virginia's AG. Cuccinelli was unsuccessful in his own run for Governor in November against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Along with the Democratic win in the Lt. Governor's race as well, a Herring victory would result in the first time since 1969 that Democrats held all three statewide offices, and the first time in twenty years that Virginia will have a Democratic AG.
As bad as those "recount" statutes are, however, a margin of 165 votes could certainly be reversed, even in a state where most votes are currently recorded (either accurately or inaccurately, who knows?) by 100% unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems, and where the rest are tallied (either accurately or inaccurately, who knows?) by paper-ballot optical-scan tabulators that will be used once again to "recount" (either accurately or inaccurately, who knows?) most of the state's paper ballots.
Yes, that's right. Hundreds of thousands of 100% unverifiable electronic votes cast in the closest statewide race in VA state history cannot be "recounted" now in any meaningful way. For those votes, state election code specifies that, during the "recount", election officials will merely recheck the voting machine computer printouts from Election Night to make sure the certified results match. Meanwhile --- and short of a court order --- votes that were cast on paper ballots will simply be run through the same optical-scan computers that tallied them the first time, after they've been reprogrammed to set aside all ballots which the scanner sees as an over vote, an under vote or a write-in vote in the AG's race. Those set aside paper ballots, at least, will then be examined by hand, in public, by actual human beings.
As ridiculous as the VA "recount" statute is, the "contest" law --- another procedure which the candidate who loses the "recount" may file thereafter --- is even more ridiculous. But, depending on the results of the "recount", that may be the only option Obenshain is left with...and it could result in a GOP "victory", even with fewer recorded popular votes, presuming there are enough heavily partisan Republicans in the VA state legislature...
Ruskin's report is chilling and the interview is disturbing. But the second half of the show is (largely) much less troubling! We update a lot of the stories we've been covering of late on The BradCast, most of them with good news updates!
So, curl on up to the holiday radio hearth and give it a listen...and all of my best to you and yours for Thanksgiving! (Or, as we call it around here since Chanukah falls on the same day this year: Thanksalatke!)
UPDATE 11/25/2013: Deeds was interviewed by the The Recorder today and blames the beauracracy of the local community services board for releasing his son from an emergency custody order for lack of a bed space just 13 hours before the tragedy occurred. Some local hospitals have said, since the incident, that they did have room, but were not contacted...
"I hope we can make a positive change as a result of this tragedy," [Deeds] told The Recorder. "I hope the justice we can get for my son is to force change in the delivery system for mental health services."
"I am alive for a reason, and I will work for change," Deeds said. "I owe that to my precious son."
Sometimes it's a good idea to get a full explanation before these things become fodder in a contentious partisan legal election contest. So that's what we've tried to do. Happily, the General Registrar of Bedford County, VA was more than willing to help.
Last week, and the week before, The BRAD BLOG devoted quite a bit of coverage to the incredibly close Attorney General's race in Virginia. As of last week, the Democratic candidate Mark Herring was certified by the state's local voting jurisdictions (counties and cities), as the "winner" over Republican Mark Obenshain by just 164 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast.
The contest is, for now, in the hands of the State Board of Elections which will issue its own official official certification of results on November 25th, after which the candidate declared the "loser" is almost certain to ask for a "recount" and potentially file an election contest thereafter, depending on the outcome. (See the last section of this article for an explanation as to why we put quotes around the word "recount", especially in Virginia.)
During the week-long roller coaster canvass by jurisdictions across Virginia following the November 5th election, there were a number of minor adjustments to local tallies as county and city election officials checked and double-checked results printed by touch-screen and paper ballot optical-scan tabulation computers from Election Night and then adjudicated provisional ballots for tally and inclusion in the final results. While most of the adjustments made during the week following the election were relatively small, each was of great significance in a race this tight.
But there were three rather large changes to the results during the post-election canvass process --- two were in the Democratic strongholds of Fairfax County and the city of Richmond, and one was in heavily Republican Bedford County. All of the large tabulation adjustments were said to have been caused by various combinations of computer tabulator and human error.
Two of them, the ones which resulted in about 1,300 votes beginning picked up by the Democrat over his Republican rival in both Fairfax and Richmond, were covered and explained in the media in some detail. (See our coverage here of the discovery of the thousands of "missing" Fairfax votes and the eventual explanation the next day. The Richmond additions are described here.) The adjustments made during the canvass by heavily-Republican Bedford County, however, which resulted in a net pick-up of about 500 votes for Obenshain, received considerably less public explanation.
Given that all of these matters may be revisited once again in a "recount" --- and the inevitable legal challenges to go with it --- we thought it might be good to get the explanation for Obenshain's big vote pickup in Bedford County on the written record. Bedford's General Registrar Barbara Gunter was kind enough to reply to our queries last week on that point, offering her explanation for the known details of the computer and/or human errors that led to more than 700 votes in the AG's race being initially misreported on Election Night in Bedford County...
This story is horrific. It struck me even more so this morning, given that I had just been in contact with Virginia state Senator Creigh Deeds (D) last week on several occasions and had asked him to appear as my guest on the KPFK/Pacifica Radio BradCast.
Deeds is currently said to be in critical condition after being stabbed multiple times today in his own home, "in the head and torso," according to officials. His son Gus was found dead in the same home, the victim of "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound," the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, adding the detail that the son "had been released Monday following a mental health evaluation performed under an emergency custody order." Joe St. George of CBS6 reports that Gus had withdrawn last month from William & Mary College.
"The son was evaluated Monday at Bath County hospital," Dennis Cropper, executive director of the Rockbridge County Community Services Board told the Times-Dispatch, "but was released because no psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia."
The best news that can be reported from all of this for now is that officials said at a noon ET news conference today that VA's 2009 Democratic Gubernatorial candidate was able to communicate with state police about the incident before he was airlifted to a medical facility.
I had been in touch with Deeds over the last week or two in the course of our in-depth coverage of the incredibly close VA Attorney General post-election tabulation...
On this week KPFK/Pacifica Radio BradCast I was joined by Heather Parton --- much better known as the great blogger "Digby" of Hullabaloo --- to discuss the complete collapse of CBS 60 Minutes' bogus Benghazi exclusive and their pathetic "correction". Moreover, we take a look at what Digby has uncovered about the apparent Rightwing, Fox "News"-like predilections of correspondent Lara Logan and how that (and a few other disturbing Fox "News" connections) resulted in Benghazi hoax disaster at the once-great CBS News.
Next, I bring everyone up to date on the insane roller coaster that has been the last week of the insanely close Virginia Attorney General's race and the surreal pitfalls to come in the likely "recount" and potential election contest thereafter.
Finally, Desi Doyen joins us for the latest Green News Report on the Super Typhoon Haiyan disaster in the Philippines, its connection to climate change and the new all-time low for global warming deniers in its wake...
The last of the votes to be tallied in Virginia, prior to the certification deadline at 11:59pm ET tonight is done. With the Fairfax County provisional ballots optically-scanned and added to the totals, it appears that the Democratic candidate Mark Herring will be declared the "winner" for now, by just 164 votes --- out of more than 2.2 million cast --- over Republican Mark Obenshain.
If Herring can maintain his extraordinarily slim lead throughout the almost-certain "recount", he will become Virginia's first Democratic Attorney General in twenty years, and his party will have swept all three top-ticket races in the state this year --- Governor, Lt. Governor and AG.
The final provisional tallies in Democratic-leaning Fairfax County resulted in 160 votes for Herring and 103 for Obenshain, a net 57 vote pickup. Barring any surprises in the next hour (there have been plenty of twists and turns in this nail-biter over the past week since the election - see related coverage below), the final tally before the full state certification process begins as of Midnight Tuesday night will be Herring: 1,103,777 - Obenshain: 1,103,613, according to the State Board of Elections (SBE) now-updated website.
Herring and state Democrats are declaring themselves the winner of the contest. For his part, the Obenshain campaign has issued the following statement...
The tally of the last of the provisional votes in Fairfax County, VA is now completed. See the blow-by-blow details below. Or see this breaking story for the final results before the certification deadline at midnight tonight.
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I'm testing out Twitter's new "Custom Timeline" feature below, while following the tallies of the provisional ballots in Fairfax County, VA...
For the first time since the bulk of votes were tallied in Virginia on Election Night last Tuesday, the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, state Sen. Mark Herring appears to now have taken the lead over Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain in the razor-thin results of more than 2.2 million votes cast.
Herring just barely leap-frogged Obenshain's totals on Monday afternoon after tallies from a voting machine in the city of Richmond --- the results of which had been previously missing from official tallies since Election Night --- were added to the running totals. The addition of 190 votes from electronic voting machine #3791, plus a few other votes from seven other precincts re-reviewed by Richmond City's Electoral Board on Monday, resulted in what now appears to be a 115 vote lead for Herring over Obenshain.
While the results posted by State Board of Elections (SBE) do not yet reflect that change in the state tally (showing, instead, a 17 vote lead for Obenshain for now), a number of election experts following and closely documenting the post-election canvassing and correction of vote tallies from across the state have confirmed Herring's new lead. Those experts have been consistently and accurately ahead of the SBE in reporting results in many cases over the past week.
[Update, 9:50pm ET: The SBE website now shows Herring up by 117, as predicted. The extra two votes were from provisional ballots added to the tally in Montgomery County.]
Ironically, the review of the poll tapes printed out by the tabulation computers from eight different precincts in very-heavily Democratic-leaning Richmond City today, came at the request of the Republican Party...
As of late Saturday, just 55 votes separated the Democratic candidate from the Republican in the Virginia Attorney General's race, according to the State Board of Elections (SBE) website. 55 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast after four days of canvassing, double-checking and processing a number of provisional ballots cast across the state during last Tuesday's election.
The state's 55 vote spread, however, is still larger than the margin cited by the election geeks who have been following this race on a county-by-county and often precinct-by-precinct (even ballot-by-ballot) level. And they have been consistently and correctly ahead of the SBE-posted numbers. One of them, Virginia political expert and self-identified "vicious campaign insultant," Ben Tribbett declared just a 15 vote margin earlier Saturday, after the spread had been just several hundred over the last few days. Late tonight, after a few more provisionals were tallied in the City of Richmond, Tribbett adjusted his tally to a 44 vote margin.
Another one of those geeks, Dave Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, predicted Friday night on Twitter that, after all provisional ballots are added in, "this thing could be single digits." It looks like he wasn't kidding.
For what it's worth, it's the Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain currently leading the Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring by either 55 votes or 15 votes or somewhere in between right now. But there still remain between 400 and 500 provisional ballots to be adjudicated and possibly added to the totals in heavily Democratic-leaning Fairfax County as of Saturday night, according to Michael McDonald, a specialist in American elections at George Mason University in Fairfax.
Indeed, it was a surprise edict concerning provisional ballots, as issued by the Republican State Board of Elections, that stopped the Fairfax County Electoral Board dead in their tracks on Saturday before they were able to adjudicate all of the county's provisionals as previously planned.
All of this, before a likely "recount" --- of 100% unverifiable touch-screen votes in most VA counties and, barring a court order, no more than a computer re-scan of most of the paper ballots in the others --- that is almost certain to be requested by whichever state Senator named Mark finds himself "the loser" of the final canvassed tally as of midnight, Tuesday, November 12th, the deadline for certification of the election...
On Thursday night, we explained as much as we could figure out about thousands of seemingly "missing" votes suddenly "discovered" in the incredibly close Attorney General's race in Virginia between Mark Obenshain (R) and Mark Herring (D).
Some 2.2 million votes were cast on Tuesday in the contest, yet just a few hundred (depending on what time of day one checked, as tallies were being canvassed and double-checked and corrected from around the state) separated the two on Thursday. Obenshain was said to be in the lead, according to the State Board of Elections (SBE) website, by a few more than 700 votes at night's end.
That's when several election porn geeks --- like Dave Wasserman of Cook Political Report and Ben Tribbett --- who had been combing over the results for the past several days, confirmed with elections officials an unusually low rate of absentee votes in Congressional District 8 in Fairfax County, VA. If accurate, it would have been the lowest return rate for absentees in the state, and it was considerably lower than adjacent districts in the same county. Fairfax leans heavily Democratic and, if absentee ballots were cast at the same rate there as other districts in the county, Wasserman and Tribbett concluded, there were about 3,000 votes unaccounted for in the SBE tallies. Those "missing" votes, if tallied, would be enough to give Herring the lead and, potentially, the first AG victory for a Democrat in the state in twenty years.
So what happened to those 3,000 or so absentee votes? Why were they seemingly 'missing' from the tally? By late Thursday, one of the Republican officials on the Electoral Board, Brian Schoeneman, said he was "convinced now too that there is an issue" and promised to "figure this out". Late late Thursday night, Wasserman had received an email from Fairfax County General Registrar Cameron Quinn acknowledging that VA08 totals were "in error" and that she suspected "machine totals that either didn't print tapes, or didn't show full tallies on the tapes." She said that the Electoral Board would "make figuring out what happened the first order of business in the morning" on Friday.
Unlike much of the state, which votes on 100% unverifiable touch-screen systems, Fairfax, the largest single voting jurisdiction in the state, uses paper ballot optical-scan systems made by Diebold. Those same systems --- as we described last night --- have a long history of failure, including dropping entire stacks of votes from the totals without notice to the system administrator. Could that be what happened?
Well, there were a few more twists and turns today, as the Fairfax County Electoral Board attempted to figure out what had gone wrong with their tallies, and as other counties wrapped up their canvass of the election. The Board plans to meet tomorrow to offer their official findings (their full statement below), but the only thing we know conclusively for the moment, is that one of Wasserman's tweets this afternoon was absolutely correct:
"Folks, I've been neck deep in MS Excel for 3+ days & I'm ready to make a projection," he said. "The next Virginia AG will be...Mark"...
We reported yesterday on the incredibly close race for Attorney General in Virginia. With more than 2.2 million votes cast, the margin between Mark Obenshain (R) and Mark Herring (D) has been within a few hundred votes since Election Night on Tuesday.
Within the last few hours, an unexplained discrepancy has been discovered by those combing over the reported numbers in Fairfax County. The county leans heavily Democratic and, unlike much of the rest of the state which uses 100% unverifiable touch-screen, Fairfax uses optically-scanned paper ballots for its main vote tabulation system.
After Democrats reportedly won both the Governor and Lt. Governor races, only the AG's remains undecided at the top of the ticket. For the last 24 hours or so, the Republican Obenshain has been leading during the canvassing of ballots by about 700 votes, as absentee and provisionals are tallied and doubled-checked.
But now, thanks to some smart detective work by both a Democratic political team in Fairfax County and by Dave Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, the fortunes for the Democrat candidate Herring may just have taken a big turn, even as a new mystery is added to the equation...