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Update: Scope of Potential Recount

Date: 11/25/2013

A recount in the state Attorney General's race -- with a margin of 165 votes out of 2.2 million cast -- would involve re-running an estimated 712,000 paper ballots through optical scan tabulation machines used in 44 localities, according to estimates from the Virginia Public Access Project.

The number of paper optical scan ballots is critical to understanding the scope of a possible recount. The State Board of Elections has not released an estimate on how many ballots were cast on Nov. 5 through touch-screen machines versus paper optical scan ballots. Touch-screen votes cannot be "recounted" because there is no paper trail. However, the optical-screen ballots can be run hrough tabulation machines a second time to confirm the original results.

VPAP came up with the 712,000 estimate based on an SBE document listing the types of machines that were used earlier this month in each locality and interviews with several local election officials. There were nine localities that used optical screen ballots exclusively, while 35 localities had a mix of touch-screen and optical-scan.

If accurate, the VPAP estimate will mean there will be 100 times more ballots recounted this year than in 2005, when Democrat Creigh Deeds lost a razor-thin vote to Republican Bob McDonnell. At that time, state law said that optical scan ballots could be recounted only at the request of a three-judge panel overseeing the process. Deeds asked that all optical scan ballots be re-run, but the court ruling only about 7,500 out of an estimated 500,000 paper ballots were run back through the machine. In the end, the recount added 37 votes to McDonnell's margin.

In 2008, the law was changed -- in a bill sponsored by Deeds -- to require all optical scan ballots to run back through the tabulation machines. In the meantime, state law also was changed that prohibits localities from buying new touch-screen machines, which has made optical scan ballots more common.

VPAP's estimate of 712,000 optical-scan ballots does not include provisional or absentee ballots.