Just finished participating in a recount today. Was not exactly fun, but I got to spend some time with some fine citizens and to do something that matters.
Republican Del. Timothy D. Hugo’s 106-vote lead over Democratic challenger Donte Tanner fell only slightly to 99 votes during a recount this week, giving the GOP the first win in a series of four recounts that will decide control of the House of Delegates.
The Fairfax County registrar’s office announced the results of the 40th District recount Thursday.
Final 1:50pm HD 40 Update: recount is finished. Tanner +14 and Hugo +7. Gives Hugo +99 over Tanner ( had been +106). Recount court to certify results. (from here)
How did this work? Well, I can only speak as a volunteer about what I saw the last couple of days. Last week I got a call from one of the people who works for Delegate Hugo. The lady asked me to serve as a recount official. What she was doing was calling Republicans who serve as election officials and asking them to help out in the recount. In addition, she was looking for Republicans willing to serve as observers. Of course, the Democratic challenger, Donte Tanner, had his people doing the same thing. The goal was to assemble a bunch of 4-person teams, a Republican recount official, a Republican observer, a Democratic recount official, and a Democratic observer, to recount the vote. So that is what both candidates were doing.
One thing that surprised me about the process is that I got a court summons. When you volunteer to be a recount official, you have become part of a court proceeding. So don’t volunteer halfheartedly. Once you say yes a judge will ask you to explain if you don’t show up.
On Wednesday, 13 December, I showed up at the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court for Fairfax County. They then took us down to a Jury Assembly Room (never did figure out how they assemble jurors (stole that joke)). Since the 40th District House of Delegates is split between Fairfax and Prince William Counties (two third of the voters in Fairfax County), Fairfax County took the lead role. So Fairfax County provided Prince William County’s recount team a Jury Assembly Room on the 5th floor, and the Fairfax County team operated out of a Jury Assembly Room on the 4th floor.
What did the Prince William County team do? Well, Prince William County has an Office of Elections (very competent bunch), but they don’t do all of the work. The Office of Elections, provides expertise and leads the process, but ordinary citizen volunteers do the work. The work of ordinary citizen volunteers is critical. These people provide verification that the process is honest. Thus, I found myself working with personnel from from the Office of Elections and with both Democrat and Republican volunteers, all conscientiously trying to do a good job.
What did we do? Mostly we just fed paper ballots into the same scanners we use on election day. When people vote in Prince William County, election officials first verify they are registered to vote and that they are at the correct precinct. Then the election official gives the voter a paper ballot. After the voter fills out the ballot (filling in the box next to their candidate’s name), the voter then takes their ballot and feeds it into a scanner. That scanner then records their vote and drops their ballot into a box for safekeeping in the event a recount is necessary.
So it is that on December 13th recount officials were feeding paper ballots from all of the voting precincts in the 40th District House of Delegates in Prince William County. In addition, we were scanning absentee ballots and hand-counting provisional ballots.
What was a little complicated about the process?
- Sometimes the scanners cannot read the ballots. If the ballot is torn or it has stray marks on it, that’s a problem. After an election the ballots have to be packed up and stored. So manual handling cannot be avoided, and a few ballots will be damaged.
- The scanners were also set to reject any ballots that we suspected that they might have trouble reading. Voters have the option of not voting in a race, or they may choose to vote for two people in the same race. The scanner will let them know if they have voted for two candidates, but they can cast their vote anyway. Nevertheless, we manually verified that the scanner properly read the ballot.
Fortunately, the ballots were in good condition and very few were rejected. So the recount changed the results just a little bit without changing the overall result. Therefore, today, on Thursday, December 14, we finished the recount. Thereafter, the recount coordinators combined the results of Fairfax County’s and Prince William County’s recount. Finally, a three-judge panel reviewed the results and declared Del. Hugo the winner.
Note that there are three other recounts in progress. In one of them the candidates are only separated by 10 votes. So it is quite possible that seat could change. If that happens, the Virginia House of Delegates will be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Not good!
Anyway, let’s close this with a couple of questions.
- Are you a Republican? Did you vote in the last election? Then consider the problems your dereliction of duty has wrought.
- Are you looking for a volunteer opportunity? Every year we have elections in Virginia. So the Office of Elections is always looking for people to volunteer to be Election Officers. If you have the time, please consider volunteering. Note that the Office of Elections needs more Republicans to volunteer. I don’t know why, but this is one thing Democrats volunteer to do more than Republicans.