In Virginia Attorney General Race, Every Vote Counts

By: Andrew McRoberts, Editor. This was posted Friday, November 15th, 2013

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On election night 2013, as I stood watching election returns, an Australian gentlemen visiting America asked me what percentage of Virginians were voting that day.

I paused to think.  First, I recited the percentage of registered voters that typically vote in a Virginia election, 40%, give or take.  Then, I considered what percentage of the population was a registered voter in the first place.  The very young, many of the old, the incarcerated, and others are not registered, by choice or not.  Many others are disinterested and therefore not even registered.  So, I had to admit, a vast majority of Virginians were not voting.

He advised me that voting in his country is mandatory.  We discussed that for a bit.  We discussed countries in which the right to vote has been suppressed for years or is simply a sham.  We discussed countries like Afghanistan, in which people recently turned out in droves, despite the danger, and dipped their finger into purple ink to vote in their first election ever.

But not here in America.  Not even in Virginia, home of the first elected legislature in America, and mother of Presidents.

Many registered voters do not bother to vote at all.  Many others do not even bother to register.  (Many do not bother to be educated on the issues and candidates when they do vote, but that is another post altogether.)  I later looked up the actual statistics:  The state board of elections website informs me that there are approximately 5.2 million registered voters in Virginia, about 2.2 million of those actually voted.  This is out of over 8.1 people estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau to live in the Commonwealth.

And, as I write, a statewide election here in Virginia is undecided almost two weeks after the election.  The candidates for Virginia Attorney General are separated by a mere 164 votes (unofficially), with a final certification due next week, and a recount likely afterward.

A mere 164 votes separate the candidates out of more than 2.2 million votes statewide.  A difference of about .007%.  A squeaker.  I think the closeness of the race has a lot to do with the quality of the two opponents, Mark Herring and Mark Obenshain, and two good campaigns.  And, perhaps, having two Marks on the ballot did not help!

But whatever the reason, the race was (is) very, very close.  164 votes is a very small margin for a race for the General Assembly (state senator or delegate).  Depending on the size of the locality, a 164 vote margin might be a narrow scrape, or a sizable win for a supervisor or council member.  But this race was statewide, not in some district or a locality.

A few people here and there, choosing to vote, or not to vote, or to pick one Mark over the other, would have flipped the result. A few Sunday school classes or book clubs or pub regulars in a handful of localities deciding to vote a certain way.  About one person in every other of the 95 counties, 38 independent cities and 190 towns in Virginia showing up and voting the same way.

The mantra that “every vote counts” is stated every year at election time, is rarely true, but sometimes is.  As an aside, I’ve seen local races tied after all of the ballots are counted, and the race decided by drawing a name out of a hat.   (Believe it or not, decision by “lots” is called for by the Virginia Code in local races that end in a tie.)

So, in the Virginia AG race this year, we see that every vote does indeed count.  Perhaps this example will cause a few more people to choose to register, to vote, and participate in our great representative democracy.  Perhaps on election night next year, I can meet someone from another country and explain, with a little less chagrin, the percentages of Virginians who vote.

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