Many of us in Northern Virginia have been closely watching the results of the race between Gerry Connolly and Keith Fimian in the 11th District. Over the past four days, election officials and volunteers from both parties have conducted a canvass - a process which takes place after every election - in which vote tallies from each precinct are examined.
According to the State Board of Elections, the current unofficial count is at 111,695 votes for Gerry Connolly and 110,727 for Keith Fimian -- a difference of just 968 votes, or 0.43%. Fimian would be well within his right to request a recount at state expense, but does anyone think this would net him enough votes to change the outcome? As we have seen over the past few days, canvassing has only increased the margin for Gerry Connolly.
I think that Fimian is not planning to run for anything again, so he is throwing everything he's got into this effort. What's he got to lose at this point? If he chooses not to challenge the results, he remains the loser. If he chooses to make a challenge, the worst thing that could happen is that he is, well, still the loser.
Could the Fimian campaign have something up its sleeve? Anthony Bedell, Chairman of the Fairfax County GOP, says, "There are several developments in the Fimian - Connolly race that may call into question the accuracy of the current vote totals."
In Fairfax County, the voting machines failed to register votes from over 800 ballots, including 106 in the Sideburn precinct alone. (Keith Fimian won that precinct 58% - 40%.) In Prince William County, the machines failed to register votes on more than 200 additional ballots.
Here is what I've heard in Fairfax County. The results from two of the DRE machines could not be read (probably due to human error on the part of lightly paid election officers who are basically volunteers and who had been on duty since 5 am). When the memory cards from the misbehaving machines were transferred to other DRE's the results were immediately printed out without problem. No "irregularity" there, Mr. Bedell.
The change in the Sideburn precinct was the result of the canvassers catching a simple arithmetic error in the reporting of the results. In totaling a column the author had forgotten to "carry the one." Again, no irregularity there either. There was a Republican at the table when the error was found and that person agreed. The canvass is intended to find and correct these errors.
In several precincts, there were actually more votes than voters. That is, voting machines reported a higher number of votes than the number of voters marked on the pollbooks as having voted in the election.
Before someone starts screaming vote fraud, let me explain how the second issue above likely happened. In a few cases, poll workers (who were tired out from a 14-hour work day) checked in the voters but forgot to mark them in the poll books. (Many locations were also using electronic poll books for the first time.) This means that the person voted, their vote was counted, but there will be no record that they voted. Each precinct was canvassed by two election officials, plus one Democrat and one Republican volunteer. The incident was explained to both of them, so Bedell is knowingly creating an issue where one doesn't exist. He also doesn't give a number of the discrepancy, so the number is probably insignificant.
As of Election Day, there were over 1,150 absentee ballots that had been mailed out to military and other overseas voters but had yet to be received back in the 11th Congressional District.
This past year the General Assembly changed the law to provide that if a locality is late sending out the oversees absentee ballots (which in Fairfax go to as many State Department personnel as military, many of whom vote Democratic) the deadline for return the ballot is extended. BUT Fairfax got its overseas absentee ballots out on time! So they all had to be back by close of business Tuesday. The Election office staff were bringing absentee ballots into the Central Absentee Precinct for the 11th CD throughout the day.
We also understand that officials in Prince William County rejected over 280 absentee ballots, with another 200-300 absentee ballots being rejected in Fairfax County.
Bedell's number for Fairfax County is false. There were only 49 absentee ballots rejected there. In almost all of these cases, they were rejected because the name and addresses of the voter was not handwritten into the blanks on the statement of voter on the inside ("B") envelope. The voter's name and address already appear on the outside return envelope. The ballots would not have been rejected if Delegate Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), chairman of the House Privileges and Election Committee, had allowed SB 683 to get a floor vote in the House during the 2010 session. SB 683, which would have eliminated the need to write your name and address on the inside envelope, had passed the Virginia Senate 40-0 but never even got presented to the full P& E committee. Maybe Mr. Bedell should talk to Del. Cole.
If the Republicans have a problem with the canvass process, they should take it up with their own Hans von Spakovsky, a former Bush appointee to the FEC and current Fairfax County Elections Board member who recently stated that "absentee ballots" are "really the tool of choice, of people who want to steal ballots."
The Post also reported that "Operatives from both parties say privately that they haven't seen any scenario by which Fimian could make up the difference in a recount."
When the Washington Post called Edgardo Cortes, the Fairfax Registrar, to comment on Bedell's memo, the Electoral Board recessed the closed meeting after Cortes had met with Mike Long, the Assistant County Attorney, to hear a report from Cortes in open session. He related all of the above. In the room were Hans Van Spavosky, Carol Ann Coryell, long time Republican member of the Fairfax Electoral Board and Doug Bolter, the Fairfax County Republican Party representative. All three agreed that there was no substance to Bedell's allegations.
As we've seen with recent recounts, the final count changes very little and almost never changes the outcome. (See McDonnell v. Deeds in 2005, and Oleszek v. Cuccinelli in '07.) But if Keith Fimian wants to spend taxpayer dollars on what looks to be a fool's errand, than he is free to do so. We may have to wait until at least November 22, when the official results are certified, before we know if there will be a recount.
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