As Janet Oleszak and Ken Cuccinelli prepare for a recount in a race apparently won by Senator Cuccinelli by 92 votes, I remember what happened to me 16 years ago.
At this date in 1991, I was waiting for the recount to begin one week later.
I had officially lost my first election to the House Delegates by 17 votes to Republican David Sanders according to the State Board of Elections. Virginia law allows an official loser whose vote total is one half of one percent less than the winner’s total to call for a recount at the state’s expense. Attorneys’ fees are not included in the state-covered expenses.
I asked for a recount, hired an attorney, former Virginia Attorney General Tony Troy, solicited volunteer election judges to watch the count, and prepared for an unknown ordeal without much hope of success.
In preparation for the recount under Fairfax Circuit Court Chief Judge Richard Jamborsky, two out-of-town judges were appointed by the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court.
On the morning of the recount both sides gathered in the Fairfax Courthouse, listened to the instructions by Judge Richard Jamborsky, waited for the three judges to leave the courtroom and began reviewing the information provided by the Electoral Board staff. The first step was to review the tapes printed out by the voting machines in each of the 17 precincts in the 53-rd House District.
By noon that review resulted in no questions or challenges by either side so the outcome I wanted appeared very unlikely.
After lunch, review of the absentee ballots began. The process started with reviewing all the absentee ballots cast in the County to make certain we had segregated all those cast in the 53rd District race. [It is important to note that all absentee ballots were originally cast by hand, sorted, counted and then stored in the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court.] As I recall, there were 371 absentee ballots out of a total of approximately 13,500 votes cast.
Small teams of representatives of both sides carefully sorted and counted the 371 votes. Late in the afternoon, someone showed me a hand-tabulated total that revealed that 18 votes had been miscounted and I was in the lead by one vote. Stunned, I asked what happened next. She said both sides agreed that they would ask the judges to allow recount of the absentee ballots to make certain that (a) all the ballots for the 53rd were counted and (b) they were apportioned correctly to the two candidates.
Late that evening, the second absentee ballot review and recount resulted in the same conclusion as the first with two ballots being challenged, one by my supporter and one by a Sanders’ supporter.
Both sides agreed to ask the judges to reconvene the next morning for arguments on the two ballots. I went to bed thinking that I could be a one-vote winner, a one-vote loser or in a tie with Sanders. My attorney told me he was prepared to argue that both disputed ballots should be counted the same way: throw them both out or count them both.
The next morning, the judges agreed with my attorney and threw both ballots out as unclear. I won by one vote, and wound up with a $75,000 legal bill for a job paying $17,500. Had the race resulted in a tie, my opponent and I would have traveled to Richmond to draw the winner’s name out of a hat.