Democrat Mark R. Herring continued to widen his lead over Republican Mark D. Obenshain on the second day of the statewide recount in the race for attorney general.
As ballots were being counted Tuesday, Herring was 866 votes ahead of Obenshain by 7 p.m., said Herring’s legal counsel Marc Elias.
“We continue to gain margin at a steady pace, and we expect to continue to do so through the rest of the recount,” Elias told reporters Tuesday. “We become more confident as this recount progresses.”
Less than 120 ballots had been challenged by partisan election officials to be sent to the Richmond Circuit Court, where a three-judge panel will begin reviewing them Thursday.
Of 133 localities statewide, 98 had finished their tallies by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
If Herring keeps his momentum and the number of challenged ballots does not exceed his net gain of votes, he could be the unofficial winner by midnight tonight, the deadline for localities to submit any ballots in dispute.
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But even if Herring maintains his edge, election officials will not stop until the canvass and review is complete and the recount court certifies the results, said Don Palmer, secretary of the State Board of Elections.
Herring had closed the tally’s first day with a 305-vote lead, after Fairfax County, Chesapeake and Alexandria started counting Monday. For Herring, this was a 140-vote increase from before the recount, when he led by just 165 votes of 2.2 million cast — the closest margin in any statewide race in modern Virginia history.
Over the course of the recount, there have been 1,133 more votes for Herring and 432 more for Obenshain, for a net gain for the two days for Herring of 701, Elias said.
In 2005, Republican Bob McDonnell prevailed over state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, by just 323 votes after the recount of the attorney general’s race.
Republicans had expected a strong start for Herring since Fairfax County is heavily Democratic.
Obenshain did not comment on Herring’s increasing margin Tuesday.
“This is an ongoing process,” Obenshain-spokesman Paul Logan said. “It’s important to see it through and ensure that we get an accurate result. That’s been our goal since the minute polls closed.”
The special court is expected to pronounce the winner Friday in Richmond, where Circuit Court Clerk Bevill M. Dean on Tuesday watched election officials retabulate thousands of optical scan ballots for the city’s 67 precincts in the recount room at the courthouse on Eighth Street.
G. Bill Thomas, secretary of the Richmond electoral board and one of two local recount coordinators, said in the afternoon that recount officers were prepared to come back for another day, but could finish Tuesday night.
“We did our first canvass in November and we are reconfirming everything today, and nothing has changed so far,” Thomas said. “We think we are doing fine. The votes are what they are.”
Neither Thomas nor J. Kirk Showalter, Richmond’s general registrar, had seen any challenged ballots Tuesday.
“There were a number of questions raised by the observers, but I believe that our staff satisfied most of them,” Thomas said.
When establishing the ground rules for the recount, the court had allowed both candidates to dispatch their own observers to every recount site in the state. The observers may take notes and direct concerns at the coordinators, but they must not interfere with the inspection of ballots by the bipartisan recount teams.
In Hanover County, election officials also said that they had not sent any ballots to the recount court by Tuesday afternoon.
“So far, everybody has been working well together and it’s been a pretty clean process all morning long,” said Keith Wine, an observer for Obenshain. “We have seen nothing notable. It’s been a smooth transaction.”
Lyn Hodnett, a Democratic observer, echoed her Republican counterpart’s words.
“Everything has been very smooth, and we’re very lucky in Hanover because we have a fine registrar, a spirited cooperation, and we have people with institutional knowledge that is fantastic,” she said.
Ernest Mason, secretary of the Hanover County elections board, said that a little more than 38,400 ballots from 37 precincts must be counted.
“Getting started was kind of slow, but it’s picking up as our staffers are learning how to use the machines,” Mason said, adding that he expects the Hanover tally to wrap by noon today.