Virginia House recount underway; could affirm GOP majority

Politics

FILE – Del. Martha Mugler, D-Hampton, second from right, and Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, right, walk past a group of demonstrators as they head to the House of Delegates inside the Virginia state Capitol in Richmond, Va., on March 2, 2020. One of the two outstanding vote recounts requested by Mugler, of the 91st District, and Democratic Del. Alex Askew, who currently represents the 85th House District, that will settle whether Virginia Republicans have reclaimed the majority in the House of Delegates is set to get underway Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, in Virginia Beach. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP, File)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — Election officials were painstakingly recounting votes late into the night Thursday in one of two unresolved races in Virginia that will settle whether Republicans have reclaimed the majority in the state’s House of Delegates and completed a party sweep of last month’s contests.

Representatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties took part in the secondary counting of ballots requested by Democratic Del. Alex Askew, who currently represents the 85th House District. The district covers a portion of the city of Virginia Beach.

Askew and fellow Democratic Del. Martha Mugler of the 91st District requested recounts after certified results from the Nov. 2 election showed their GOP challengers leading by razor-thin margins.

Republicans — who won 52 districts, according to the certified results — have said they are confident their candidates’ leads will hold.

The recount in the 91st District, which covers the cities of Hampton and Poquoson, and York County, was expected to take place next week, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Throughout the day Thursday, a few dozen people packed into a room in the second floor of an elections building in Virginia Beach as the ballots were fed into the two scanning machines. Groups of four or five people sat at a handful of tables and looked at any ballots that were determined by the machines to have write-in candidates, were not clearly marked or had some other issue.

By midafternoon, the group had worked through the vast majority of the approximately 20,000 ballots cast in person on Election Day, and only one ballot had been designated for a challenge.

Officials also had to recount all of the city’s early-voting and mail-in ballots — about 54,000 — to ensure that they had accounted for all of the approximately 8,000 such ballots that were meant for the 85th District. Jeffrey Marks, the GOP chair of the city’s electoral board, said he hoped that process would conclude by midnight.

Any irregularities from those ballots were expected to be sorted through Friday morning, Marks said, before both sides will present challenge ballots to a three-judge panel. The judges will decide how each challenge ballot should be counted.

If the recounts confirm the Republicans’ victories in both the 85th and 91st Districts, it will mark a GOP sweep in last month’s election, when its candidates claimed the statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Those wins were a dramatic turnaround in a state where the GOP had not won a statewide race since 2009.

Virginia’s top elections official, Chris Piper, has said the recounts are unlikely to change the outcomes of the races because of the size of the margins. If both Askew and Mugler were declared winners through the recounts, the House would be tied 50-50, forcing Democrats and Republicans to hash out a power-sharing agreement.

Askew went into the recount trailing Republican Karen Greenhalgh by 127 votes out of 28,413 counted. Mugler trailed Republican A.C. Cordoza by 94 votes out of 27,388 counted. The Associated Press hasn’t called either race.

Both Mugler and Askew are incumbent freshmen who were first elected in 2019, when Democrats flipped both the House and Senate.

Recounts in Virginia are not automatic and must be requested. Because the margins in the Askew-Greenhalgh and Mugler-Cordoza races were under 0.5%, the costs will be covered by the state.

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Rankin reported from Richmond, Virginia.

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