POLITICS
11/13/2013 06:12 pm ET | Updated Nov 14, 2013

Virginia Attorney General Race Proves That Every Vote Matters

The Washington Post via Getty Images

More than a week after the 2013 elections, Virginia voters are still waiting to hear who will be elected state attorney general. Amid intense jockeying over preliminary results and provisional ballots, the race could ultimately come down to fewer than 200 votes.

Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring (Leesburg) declared victory Tuesday night over Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain (Harrisonburg) after counts put Herring ahead by 164 votes. But Obenshain hasn't yet conceded, calling Herring's decision "bravado." The final results won't be certified statewide until Nov. 25, and Obenshain says he's not ruling out petitioning for a recount. Both men have announced transition teams.

Even before the results came in, the race between Herring and Obenshain attracted national attention. In Virginia, the attorney general position is considered a stepping-stone to a gubernatorial bid. For Democrats, a win would mean control of Virginia's top-three statewide offices for the first time since 1989. For Republicans, it would mean victory of one anti-abortion advocate in the state this year, and the prevention of a Democratic sweep.

The nail-bitingly close results have been a hassle for voters as well. A new ruling Friday from Virginia's state election board required voters who cast provisional ballots to contact officials to make sure their votes were counted.

In an election so close that at one point it hinged on just 17 votes, that directive sent volunteers in both parties into a frantic race to call provisional voters, resulting in what William Dwyer -- one provisional Fairfax, Va., voter -- recalled as "a plethora of phone calls from campaign staffers."

One volunteer for the Fairfax County Democratic Party, JoAnne Norton, said she called about 100 people to come in and verify their vote.

"People were not happy to be called. Some people outright refused," she told HuffPost. "They were really annoyed being called and having to do this. It takes quite a while to get to the [Fairfax] County Governmental Center from some outlying areas. The saddest ones were nursing home residents who probably voted provisionally because they just moved to their residences. Some of them were 86 and 90 years old."

Arlington County voter Alicia Shepard, a media writer and former ombudsman at NPR, was forced to cast a provisional ballot after arriving to vote and being told she'd been sent an absentee ballot, which she had neither requested nor received.

"I felt immediately defeated. My vote would not count," she said on Monday. "I was told to file a provisional ballot, and if they didn't receive an absentee ballot they would eventually count mine. Now my vote really matters, and I have no idea if the provisional ballot will be accepted. I am angry that I went to the trouble of voting and now feel in limbo.”

Although she was eventually able to reach the county registrar and have her vote counted, she said the experience was a stark lesson in the importance of voting. "This is such a reminder that every vote really, really does count, and I hope all those people who feel their vote doesn't matter will vote next time," she said.

Virginia resident Wandaè Johnson, who didn't make it to the polls last week, said she had planned to vote and regrets not doing so.

"I most definitely wish I had prioritized voting!" Johnson said. "I work a 13-hour overnight shift and after several other obligations, I opted for sleep, saying to myself that I would vote when I woke up. I woke up shortly after the polls closed. ... Watching this count unfold had taught me a valuable lesson."

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