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Minor changes here in recount

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Fredericksburg officials cruised through their review of the first two precincts’ ballots Tuesday morning during the recount in the Virginia attorney general’s race.

Based on that, recount coordinator Amanda McGrady was hopeful of a smooth finish to the process.

But just before lunch, they encountered a discrepancy in one precinct between the numbers for Election Day and the ballot review.

The group took a break to refresh before resuming work. It then resolved the matter with no change in the tally of votes cast and then pressed ahead.

Across the state Tuesday, jurisdictions were reviewing their ballots for the race between Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain. The Nov. 5 election produced the closest statewide race in Virginia history.

Obenshain petitioned for the recount after the Nov. 5 results showed Herring ahead by 165 votes out of the 2.2 million cast.

Three jurisdictions started on Monday—Fairfax and the cities of Alexandria and the city of Chesapeake—because of the large number of hand-counted ballots.

The remaining jurisdictions started early Tuesday morning and had until 8 p.m. to finish for the day. All jurisdictions have until tonight to finish the process.

A three-judge panel will decide challenged ballots. It is scheduled to convene today for a hearing and begin considering challenged ballots Thursday and Friday.

Spotsylvania County election officials finished their review by mid-afternoon Tuesday.

In the process, Obenshain picked up 22 votes, while Herring lost two.

Those changes from the previous vote totals came from paper absentee ballots, Voter Registrar Kellie Acors said.

Paper ballots present problems because they are counted by hand and sometimes marks are not clear, she said.

All Spotsylvania precincts use touch-screen voting machines, so the majority of the recount was a matter of reviewing the tape, Acors said.

About 20 people, including election officials, registrar’s office staff and county electoral board members worked in the Circuit Court building to recount the votes.

About 32 people worked on the recount in Stafford County, finishing up shortly before 5 p.m., said county registrar Greg Riddlemoser.

“It was a fast and efficient operation,” he said. “I’m proud of the way that the process worked.”

The 34,220 ballots of Stafford voters were fed into the machines, which only count the ballots where a voter filled in the circle next to a candidate’s name. The machines spit out ballots where no circle was filled for an attorney general candidate. Then, election officials reviewed those rejected ballots.

In many cases, Riddlemoser said, the voter simply didn’t choose between the two attorney general candidates. But in some instances, the voter indicated a choice by another method, such as circling one name or crossing out a name.

Inspecting those ballots, election officials found a net change of 21 more votes for Herring.

Reviewing the votes took 15 hours, and  officials didn’t finish until about 10 p.m. said Jeff Sili, the Caroline Republican Party Chairman. He added that six people reviewed about 7,800 ballots and in the end, Herring picked up four votes.

In Fredericksburg, two two-person teams worked from 7:30 a.m. until about 4:15 p.m. at the Dorothy Hart Community Center feeding paper ballots into the scanning machine.

By the time they finished all seven precincts, Herring had picked up one vote and the overall vote total for the race had increased by one to 5,980. The additional vote resulted from manually reviewing a ballot the machine could not read, election officials said.

The crew of election officials were packing up by 4:15 p.m., faster than McGrady had anticipated.

“We thought this was going to go to [Wednesday],” she said. “I’m so happy.”

She credited the diligence of the recount officials who worked steadily through the day.

Staff writers Lindley Estes, Robyn Sidersky, Amy Flowers Umble and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972