The Historic Virginia Beach Recount –
a lesson in organized chaos
By Bruce Meyer
The November 6 th , 2018 Election was not just about control of Congress. It was also the date citizens of Virginia Beach went to the polls to elect a new Mayor, 7 members of City Council and 6 members of School Board. When the dust settled, there were some upsets and three Council races were within a 530 vote margin out of a total of 171,361 people who voted! Not everyone voted in each race (we will get to that in little bit). At the end of the night, it looked like Brad Martin had upset the longtime
incumbent, Louis Jones in the Bayside Borough. Dee Oliver looked like she had beaten incumbent John Moss for an At-large Seat and David Nygaard had upset incumbent John Uhrin in the Beach Borough.
The next morning, it was discovered that due to several human input errors, Jones had actually beaten Martin and Moss had beaten Oliver.
I eel fortunate to have been a citizen of Virginia Beach since 1978. In all of the years that I can remember, the elections were always run in a fair and professional manner. This election was no exception; however, this was also the first time we had such a shift in voting totals that it altered the outcome in two races at the same time. Also, all three races were within a 530 vote margin – well below the state threshold for a recount to be held and paid for by the Commonwealth. This was
unprecedented in the City of Virginia Beach. Recounts have occurred in the past, just one race per year. This was three!
The fun now begins. The City had to
develop procedures to conduct such an unprecedented recount. Don’t forget, while our machines are computerized, they also have a paper ballot backup (as mandated
by Virginia law – Thank you Virginia General Assembly). So as not to be counting for weeks, a specialized high speed counter was needed. The City had to borrow three high speed counting machines from North Carolina.
Next up were the attorneys representing the candidates. They had to argue their cases in front of a special three judge panel, led by (former Virginia Beach Delegate) Judge Glenn Croshaw. Some of the
attorneys were arguing for separate counts for accuracy. The City wanted to run all of the ballots simultaneously to be more efficient. Efficiency won the argument. The Judges set a recount date of Monday, November 19 th . It would take a full week to complete the count.
Each candidate was authorized to position one observer at each counting table to bare witness and report any irregularities. I was invited by my good friend Brad Martin to participate in the process as an observer. I eagerly accepted as this gave me a firsthand look at this historic process. Virginia Beach
Clerk of Court, Tina Sinnen was in charge of the recount. When the participants entered Building 19 of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, you had to get checked in and receive your credentials. They were
checked by a Sheriff’s Deputy. Security was very tight. In the room there were 10 counting tables. In the front of the room there were the three specialized high-speed counting machines. Donna Paterson,
VB General Registrar; Al Ablowich, City Electoral Board Chairman; and Judge Croshaw were in the room
“directing the traffic” and answering questions.
The City utilized the official city election workers, members of the Clerk’s Office and Registrar’s office to perform the counts. Virginia Beach has 100 voting precincts and 1 absentee ballot precinct.
I walked down to the front of the room to the table that was assigned to me. At the table were six election officials and one member of the Clerk’s office. There was room (barely) for up to 6 observers. I
was one of them. The Clerk would go up to the front and collect her ballots for a particular precinct. She would then distribute those ballots in small batches to the counters. The first set of counters were
for the At-Large race, the second set was for the Bayside Borough race and the third set was for the Beach Borough race. The first person would verbally read out the vote, the second person would either
concur or challenge and then write down the vote. This would take about three hours since we were looking at over 500 ballots three times. It would become really monotonous. That said, everyone at my
table was very professional and diligent.
At the end of the day (quite literally), the vote totals changed very little and Moss, Jones and Nygaard were confirmed as the winners.
As I was observing the count, I also observed a very disturbing trend. Of our sample of 500 ballots,
OVER HALF did not vote in the City Council and School Board races. Let that sink in. Only HALF of those who voted for Congress and Mayor voted for City Council and School Board. This tells me that people were not engaged and that also tells me that perhaps the ballot is too long. Perhaps people are too “busy” to actually research who is running to manage our City and Schools.
I think I may write another article to explore moving Council and School Board Elections back to May as
many other cities do. But that is for another article.
As I conclude this column, I must commend our city officials for accomplishing a fantastic and historic
feat! This recount was organized and efficient (as it can be for a first time). I want to commend Brad Martin, Dee Oliver and John Uhrin for their graciousness and professionalism during this process.
Hopefully more people will engage in the all-important voting process and we will not have to go through another recount; however, if we must, Virginia Beach is ready.
Bruce Meyer is the Publisher of Hampton Roads Weekly. He is a past Chairman of the State Board for
Virginia’s Community Colleges and is President of Meyer Group Insurance. You can reach Bruce at