|Representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties greet provisional voters at the Fairfax County Government Center.|
“We’re going to pull it off. I think we are going to win, despite election officials’ use of voter suppression tactics,” said Cesar del Aguila, chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC).
Herring is ahead
As of this morning, the Virginia State Board of Elections’ unofficial results put Obenshain ahead by just 17 votes out of more than 2.2 million votes cast statewide. Those results include 3,200 absentee ballots statewide that hadn’t been counted on Election Day due to machine and human error, many of them in Fairfax County, along with other voting discrepancies that have since been corrected.
The 17-vote difference, however, doesn’t include hundreds of provisional votes cast on Election Day in Fairfax County.
People who had problems voting in Fairfax County and were given provisional ballots are being asked to come to the county’s Office of Elections in the Fairfax County Government Center by 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, to ensure that their vote will count. The Office of Elections is open Monday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
The Elections Office must certify the results by midnight, Nov. 12. The state board will then review the results and certify the official count by Nov. 25. After that, the losing candidate is expected to request a recount.
The outcome is crucial, as the attorney general’s office is seen as a stepping stone for the governor’s office. The current attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, lost his bid for governor Nov. 5 to the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe. Both attorney general candidates are in the state Senate, Obenshain from Harrisonburg, and Herring from Loudoun County.
As of 5 p.m., Sunday, when the Office of Elections closed, the FCDC had logged in 78 provisional voters. The FCDC had about 490 names on its list of provisional voters. The Republican representatives at the Government Center wouldn’t say how many provisional voters they had tracked or logged in.
Voting suppression charged
A ruling from the State Board of Elections on Friday, Nov. 8, requiring provisional voters to come to the Government Center in person is making it more difficult to have those ballots counted, and the Democrats say that is being done deliberately to suppress Democratic votes.
Previously, it wasn’t necessary for provisional voters to be present; they merely had to designate a party representative to serve on their behalf.
FCDC chair del Aguila said he is disappointed that the Board of Elections “decided to take away voters’ right to representation.” As a result of that rule change, “we started scrambling to find any voter we could identify.” The FCDC set up a phone bank to call people who voted with a provisional ballot, knocked on the doors of people they couldn’t reach by phone, and offered them rides to the Government Center.
The FCDC filed a lawsuit a year ago challenging the state board and the Fairfax County Office of Elections, both of which are controlled by Republicans, for what del Aguila calls “shenanigans” aimed at preventing Democrats from voting.
The outcome of that suit hasn’t been determined yet, but he said the county Office of Elections had already implemented some of FCDC’s demands, including providing access to poll log books. If that hadn’t been done, the committee wouldn’t have been able to gain access to provisional voters’ contact information.
The initial miscount in Fairfax County, which is an entirely separate issue from the provisional ballots, stemmed from a broken voting machine in the Mason District Government Center in Annandale, which was used by people voting absentee-in-person before Election Day.
Those votes aren’t counted until Election Day, and when that was done, election officials recorded the data wrong, resulting in nearly 2,000 votes omitted. County officials also discovered another 342 absentee ballots omitted due to math errors. Those errors have been corrected, as have other voting problems in other parts of the state.
There are lots of reasons why people had to vote on a provisional basis on Election Day.
One man who showed up at the Government Center on Nov. 10 said he was originally supposed to vote absentee because he was stationed at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, but was sent home in July following an outbreak of violence in the Egyptian capital. He spent half an hour trying to vote in Groveton Nov. 5 and was upset about having to make the long drive to Fairfax to ensure his vote would be counted.
Another man got a provisional ballot on Election Day, because when he showed up to vote at Bailey’s Community Center in the Mason District, someone else with the same name had already voted. A woman who had expected to be out of town on Nov. 5 and had been given an absentee ballot, was required to vote with a provisional ballot when she showed up at her polling place at Mason Crest Elementary School in Annandale.
At least three people who came to the Government Center this weekend weren’t permitted to make their case to election officials. In one instance, a woman was given a provisional ballot Nov. 5 because she brought the wrong type of ID to the polls. She was turned away yesterday because the rules require a voter to bring the correct ID to the Election Office within three days of the election.
“That doesn’t make any sense. It’s arbitrary to have different rules for different kinds of provisional voting situations,” said Terry Adams, an Annandale resident who was observing the provisional balloting process. Two other people were turned away because of problems with their voter registration status, he said.
After the election is certified by the state board, the losing candidate can request a recount if the difference between the two candidates is less than 1 percent. That request must be filed by Dec. 5.
The counties and cities involved in the recount must pay the cost of conducting the recount if the margin between the two candidates is half of 1 percent or less. Otherwise, the candidate requesting the recount must pay.