In cliffhanging Va. AG race, Herring gains; Obenshain maintains lead

State Sen. Mark Herring (D), left, and State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R).

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FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) - The cliffhanging race for Virginia attorney general tightened Saturday after a canvass of absentee ballots in a Fairfax County district added 2,070 votes for Democrat Mark R. Herring, more than doubling those added to Republican Mark R. Obenshain's total.

Before the Fairfax recount, Obenshain had a 1,262-vote edge over Herring among 2.2 million ballots cast across Virginia in Tuesday's general election, according to the State Board of Elections' unofficial count.

The statewide vote totals in the contest, which is likely headed to a recount, also do not include more than 3,000 provisional ballots. Local registrars have until Tuesday to certify those votes.

The Fairfax Count canvass was prompted by "multiple tabulation errors" that resulted in an undercount of absentees for both candidates in District 8, Brian W. Schoeneman, secretary of the Fairfax County Electoral Board, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. The largest tabulation error involved the breakdown of a voting machine, he wrote, which was compounded by "human error in the tabulation."

The error became apparent after the percentage of absentee ballots returned in District 8 was significantly lower than other Fairfax County districts. The Fairfax County Electoral Board launched an investigation Friday.

In a statement issued Saturday, the board said: "The final results of our investigation determined that there were errors in the tabulation that reduced the final vote tally by approximately 3,000 votes."

With those votes now counted, Herring's initial District 8 tally of 3,062 rose to 5,137 votes, while Obenshain's initial total increased from 1,101 to 2,059.

The totals aren't official until the board certifies the results. It said it will do that by Tuesday's deadline.

The campaigns of Obenshain and Herring, both state senators, have each said they are considering asking for a statewide recount.

In Virginia, the state pays for a recount if the margin is within one-half of a percentage point. If it's more than that but less than 1 percentage point, a candidate can demand a recount at his or her own expense.

The candidates are separated by 0.23 of a percentage point, according to tabulations by the state elections board before the Fairfax County canvass of absentee ballots.

Herring and Obenshain are seeking to succeed Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who ran unsuccessfully for governor.

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Correction: An earlier headline on this story that appeared briefly said Herring had gained the lead, but Obenshain still has the lead according to the State Board of Elections.