FAIRFAX, Va. — With a razor-thin margin between the two candidates for attorney general, Fairfax County election officials focused on a faulty voting machine as the cause for an unusually low number of absentee ballots recorded in one of the county’s voting districts.
The Fairfax County Electoral Board said it would meet Saturday to hear the results of an investigation into the apparent voting discrepancy and release the results of a canvass on Sunday.
Statewide, Republican state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain of Harrisonburg has a 1,272-vote lead over state Sen. Mark R. Herring, a Loudoun Democrat. But Herring won Fairfax County by a wide margin in Tuesday’s election, 60 percent to 38 percent, and up to 2,000 votes could be up for grabs in the canvass.
The Fairfax County discrepancy involves the 8th District. Election officials anticipated absentee ballots cast Tuesday would total 7,127, but they tallied only 5,293.
“There is clearly an error here, and we are actively working to determine where that error is,” Brian W. Schoeneman, secretary of the Fairfax County Electoral Board, wrote in an email Friday. He added that election officials “are diligently working through this issue in order to correct the error and get everything right.”
In Fairfax County’s two other voting districts, more than 80 percent of voters who requested absentee ballots voted, but only 50 percent returned ballots in District 8.
Some 3,158 provisional ballots also remain to be certified statewide. Those ballots typically involve a voter who lacked an ID or voted in the wrong precinct. Local registrars have until Tuesday to certify those ballots, and the state has until Nov. 25. Either way the votes fall, each candidate is expected to seek a recount.
The combination of the unaccounted Fairfax County absentee ballots and the provisional ballots make it increasingly likely the successor to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli won’t be known until the state certifies the vote later this month. Cuccinelli fell short in his Republican bid for governor on Tuesday, losing to Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
Unofficial statewide election results show Obenshain had an edge over Herring among the 2.2 million ballots cast Tuesday.
In statements released Friday, spokesmen for Obenshain and Herring both expressed confidence their candidate would win.
Paul Logan, a spokesman for Obenshain, said the campaign is “confident that we will prevail.” He added, “We’re going to wait until the State Board of Elections finishes its tabulations and make sure that every legitimate vote is counted.”
Herring spokesman Kevin O’Holleran said the campaign was confident that Herring would be the next attorney general.
“Based on a number of significant indicators, there may be thousands of unaccounted absentee votes in Fairfax County,” he said. “This issue needs to be addressed immediately to ensure every Virginian’s vote is counted.”
In a news release, Fairfax elections board said the absentee undercount in District 8 involves an optical scanner that failed election night.
The state pays for a recount if the margin is within one-half of a percentage point. If it’s more than that but less than 1 percentage point, a candidate can demand a recount at his or her own expense.
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