On Thursday night, we explained as much as we could figure out about thousands of seemingly "missing" votes suddenly "discovered" in the incredibly close Attorney General's race in Virginia between Mark Obenshain (R) and Mark Herring (D).
Some 2.2 million votes were cast on Tuesday in the contest, yet just a few hundred (depending on what time of day one checked, as tallies were being canvassed and double-checked and corrected from around the state) separated the two on Thursday. Obenshain was said to be in the lead, according to the State Board of Elections (SBE) website, by a few more than 700 votes at night's end.
That's when several election porn geeks --- like Dave Wasserman of Cook Political Report and Ben Tribbett --- who had been combing over the results for the past several days, confirmed with elections officials an unusually low rate of absentee votes in Congressional District 8 in Fairfax County, VA. If accurate, it would have been the lowest return rate for absentees in the state, and it was considerably lower than adjacent districts in the same county. Fairfax leans heavily Democratic and, if absentee ballots were cast at the same rate there as other districts in the county, Wasserman and Tribbett concluded, there were about 3,000 votes unaccounted for in the SBE tallies. Those "missing" votes, if tallied, would be enough to give Herring the lead and, potentially, the first AG victory for a Democrat in the state in twenty years.
So what happened to those 3,000 or so absentee votes? Why were they seemingly 'missing' from the tally? By late Thursday, one of the Republican officials on the Electoral Board, Brian Schoeneman, said he was "convinced now too that there is an issue" and promised to "figure this out". Late late Thursday night, Wasserman had received an email from Fairfax County General Registrar Cameron Quinn acknowledging that VA08 totals were "in error" and that she suspected "machine totals that either didn't print tapes, or didn't show full tallies on the tapes." She said that the Electoral Board would "make figuring out what happened the first order of business in the morning" on Friday.
Unlike much of the state, which votes on 100% unverifiable touch-screen systems, Fairfax, the largest single voting jurisdiction in the state, uses paper ballot optical-scan systems made by Diebold. Those same systems --- as we described last night --- have a long history of failure, including dropping entire stacks of votes from the totals without notice to the system administrator. Could that be what happened?
Well, there were a few more twists and turns today, as the Fairfax County Electoral Board attempted to figure out what had gone wrong with their tallies, and as other counties wrapped up their canvass of the election. The Board plans to meet tomorrow to offer their official findings (their full statement below), but the only thing we know conclusively for the moment, is that one of Wasserman's tweets this afternoon was absolutely correct:
"Folks, I've been neck deep in MS Excel for 3+ days & I'm ready to make a projection," he said. "The next Virginia AG will be...Mark"...