VIRGINIA BEACH — The historic recount of three City Council elections began here Monday, as a medley of people packed a city conference room to commence the review of more than 170,000 ballots.
The three DS-850 ballot-counting machines — the use of which three of the six candidates involved in the recount objected — lined the front of the room, as sheriff’s deputies managed traffic across the room.
Circuit Court Clerk Tina Sinnen described the process — an unprecedented one that has been crafted in the public eye over the last several weeks — as “organized chaos,” illustrating the interlocking puzzle of people, process, and access required to administer the state’s first recount of multiple elections.
“Never been done in the history of the Commonwealth,” Sinnen said when describing the recount process election officials have constructed. “We don’t want to give up accuracy for quickness — because we don’t want to do this again.”
Sinnen is the official charged with the overall security of the process, as well as the ballots themselves, which are stored in the circuit court vault when not being recounted.
The recount room will being treated much like a “court proceeding,” Sinnen said, with access restricted on a need-to-go basis.
Election officials performing the recount, certain city election staff, sheriff’s deputies, judges, candidates’ attorneys, court clerks, and observers were allowed to roam the room as needed.
However, City Council candidates, substitute and election officials, the media, and the public were restricted to a certain point “to lessen distractions for the people counting on the floor,” said Virginia Beach Circuit Court Chief Judge Glenn Croshaw, who presides over the three-judge panel ruling on the election process.
“We are here for one reason: To ensure the accuracy of the recent election, and also, its finality,” Croshaw said.
The city paid $51,000 to rent three DS-850 ballot-counting machines, but planned to only use two and keep one as a backup. However, Director of Elections Donna Patterson said she decided to also use the third machine during the recount.
“We wanted to get a head start this morning” and hopefully finish sooner, Patterson said, who estimated that officials may need to hand-count up to 60,000 out of the 170,000 ballots being recounted.
The recount will continue Tuesday, and Patterson said the city hopes to finish the process by the end of the week.
She cautioned that because the recounts are unprecedented in the state, “we really have no idea how long it will take.”