UPDATED with 'recount' details and more...
By Brad Friedman on 1/10/2014, 6:27pm PT  

Meanwhile, back in Virginia...here we go again...

Yes. As reported by the State Board of Elections website tonight, that's a 9-vote margin in the state Senate special election held on Tuesday to replace Democratic state Sen. Ralph Northam who is vacating his seat after being elected last November as VA's next Lt. Governor.

To put that another way, control of the entire VA state Senate now rests on 9 unverifiable touch-screen votes out of more than 20,000 cast.

The VA state Senate is currently evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, twenty seats each. The tie-breaking vote in the state Senate goes to the Lt. Governor. Until Northam is sworn in to his new job on Saturday, when he takes over from the current Republican Lt. Governor, the GOP controls both chambers of the state legislature. A Democratic Lt. Governor will, theoretically, for the first time since 1998, mean that control of the upper chamber goes back to Democrats. But that is only if both Northam's Senate seat and the one being vacated by Attorney General-elect Mark Herring both go to Democrats in the special elections...

The Tuesday, January 7th special election in Senate District 6 was the first of those two special elections. The one set to replace Herring in SD33 will be held on January 21st. So, while the executive branch in VA --- Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General --- are all going Democratic next week for the first time since 1969, control of the state Senate will have no small part in the way things move forward in the Old Dominion.

The SD33 election is a few weeks later than the SD6 election, as regular readers of The BRAD BLOG may have likely surmised by now, thanks to the amount of time it took to resolve the November 5th state AG race between Herring and his Republican opponent Mark Obenshain, who only conceded the razor-thin election in mid-December, after what sufficed for a "recount" in Virginia, of what had been, prior to that "recount", the closest statewide race in the history of the commonwealth. Herring was eventually announced the winner by just 907 votes out of more than 2.2 million votes cast. The Democrat's final margin of victory was just .041%.

In the SD6 race, the Democratic candidate Lynwood Lewis currently holds a .044% margin over Republican Wayne Coleman, after 20,401 votes were canvassed from the Tuesday election.

Understandably, a "recount" in the race is all but certain, according to Coleman's campaign, but there will be even less to "count" in the SD6 race than there was in the AG race, given that, according to VerifiedVoting.org's "Verifier" database, all six of the localities which comprise the 6th Senate District use 100% unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems on election day.

As followers of the Herring/Obenshain race will recall, the recount statute in Virginia [PDF] describes how a "recount" of votes cast on DREs is to be carried out:

For direct recording electronic machines (DREs), the recount officials shall open the envelopes with the printouts and read the results from the printouts. If the printout is not clear, or on the request of the court, the recount officials shall rerun the print out from the machine or examine the counters as appropriate.

So, that's it. Whatever was already been printed out by the machines as the "results" on the poll tapes at the end of the night will likely suffice for the final results of the race. There is no way, of course, to know that any of those votes, or any vote ever cast on any DRE system for any candidate (or initiative) on the ballot has ever been recorded by one of them as per any voter's intent. Casting a vote on a DRE consists of 100% faith-based voting.

Even if there are any absentee or provisional paper ballots to be included in a "recount" in Virginia, barring a court order, they are largely just run back through the same optical-scan computer systems that tallied them (either correctly or incorrectly --- who knows?), in the first place.

So, while little is likely to change in the SD6 "recount", it wouldn't take all that much to flip the results from the current apparent "win" for the Democrats, to a "win" for the Republicans. 5 votes re-tallied for Coleman and taken away from Lewis would reverse the results, and hand control of the state Senate back to the Republicans.

The localities that comprise SD6 are Accomack County (which votes on DREs made by WinVote, according to Verified Voting database), Mathews County (which votes on DREs made by Sequoia), Northampton County (Sequoia DREs), and the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach (which both use DREs manufactured by Diebold.) All of those systems have also been found, in the past, to be easily manipulated.

For whatever you may find them to be worth, the current results of the SD6 special election, as canvassed and officially certified by each locality as of this afternoon, are posted here at the State Board of Elections website.

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UPDATE 1/24/2014: Last Tuesday in the SD33 special election to replace Virginia's new Attorney General Mark Herring in the state Senate, the Democratic candidate Jennifer Wexton is said to have handily defeated Republican John Whitbeck. That means that Democrat Lynwood Lewis needs to hang on to his 9-vote margin over Republican Wayne Coleman in the SD6 special election from January 7th to replace former state Senator, now Lt. Governor Ralph Northam in order for Democrats to take over control of the state Senate chamber. If Lewis hangs on and is declared the victor, the 20-20 Democratic-Republican seat split in the Senate will be broken by the Democrat Northam who, as the new Lt. Governor, now enjoys the tie-breaking vote there.

Lewis' 9-vote margin over Coleman has now been certified by the State Board of Elections. Coleman has, understandably, requested a "recount" in the race. That "recount" is now set for Monday, January 27th.

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UPDATE 1/27/2014: The Democrat Lewis is declared the winner --- by 11 votes --- after the "recount". Democrats take control of the Virginia State Senate back from the Republicans. Yes, elections matter.

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