A Troubling Contest

Photo from the Obenshain Campaign

Here in Virginia, the race for our next attorney general is unresolved.  In the days after the election, the totals fluctuated for the candidates with each enjoying the lead at some point.  When the state board of elections certified the official result on November 25th, Democrat Mark Herring led Republican Mark Obenshain by 165 votes out of over two million cast.  As a result, the Obenshain campaign has asked for a recount, which is permitted in races where the percentage difference is one percent or less and paid for by the state in cases where the margin is less than 1/2 of a percent.

Will the recount change the outcome?  The last statewide recount took place in the 2005 attorney general’s race.  Republican Bob McDonnell led before the recount and emerged victorious afterward.  According to a press release sent out from the Obenshain campaign on Tuesday, “There have been four statewide elections in the U.S. since 2000 that finished within a 300 vote margin.  In three of those four statewide elections the results were reversed in a recount.”  Yes, it is possible the outcome could change; Virginia taxpayers shouldn’t grumble about footing this bill.

As we await news of this recount, if Obenshain should fall short some Republican activists have been promoting the idea of something called a “contest”.  In close elections where there are cases of massive voting irregularities, candidates can appeal to the General Assembly to decide the outcome.  The last time a contest took place was in the late 70’s when a Republican candidate contested the result of the election.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the then Democratic-controlled General Assembly decided in favor of the Democratic candidate.  However, as the Republicans control a significant majority of seats in that body, if asked to settle a contest today, presumably they would divide along party lines with Obenshain emerging as the victor.

Although a contest could allow the GOP to salvage some small measure of victory in an otherwise poor election year, without considerable proof of fraud or error, such a move would heavily tarnish any semblance of free and fair elections in Virginia.  Like the troubling decision to allow control of the lieutenant governor’s office to decide the power structure of the Virginia Senate in cases of a tie, I worry that there are elements within the Republican Party which would be willing to take this any methods necessary approach to thwart the will of the voters in the race for attorney general.

Andy Schmookler, my co-commentator and often political adversary on 550 AM, WSVA believes that Obenshain will not ask for a contest.  In the Augusta Free Press he wrote:

“A real conservative would not damage a pillar of the American political tradition by disrespecting the voice of the people expressed through voting.  It is at the heart of American democracy, because it is the means by which we confer power in an orderly and peaceful way.

“And as a matter of honor, a Virginia gentleman accepts the outcome of a duel fairly fought”

Although Andy and I disagree on a multitude of issues, I really hope he is right on this point.

Republican friends, I’m sure that I’d like see Senator Obenshain as our next attorney general as much as any of you.  But absent of proof of fraud, don’t lobby your legislators to overturn the November elections through a contest.  Sure, doing so may result in a short-term victory.  But the long-term consequences could be devastating.   The ends don’t justify the means.  Let’s let the recount and the voters determine the outcome, not 140 legislators in Richmond.

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