Less than two days before a critical reporting deadline, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) now leads challenger Ed Gillespie (R) by 16,008 votes across Virginia.
All municipalities in the Commonwealth have until noon Friday to report their provisional ballot tallies, which will then be reviewed by the State Board of Elections.
The Board meets in Richmond Nov. 24 to certify the results, and will then declare an official winner.
As of late Wednesday, both candidates are separated by 0.73 percent of the vote. If the certified margin remains below one percent, Gillespie will have 10 days to request a recount.
“We were outspent two-to-one and yet the most recent unofficial tally has us separated by less than a percentage point out of more than two million votes cast,” said Gillespie in a written statement. “It was an honor to run, and I will respect the decision reached by Virginia’s voters.”
If the final margin falls below half a percent, Virginia’s municipalities are responsible for paying for a potential recount.
Hours after cities and counties began reviewing the election returns, a member of Sen. Warner’s legal team said the post-election canvass process would show little movement in the total vote count.
“There will be some movement… but nothing that will threaten Sen. Warner’s lead,” said Marc Elias, chair of the Perkins Coie political law practice. “Historically, we tend to see Democratic candidates in general, gain votes during that process.”
All but three of Virginia’s 2,557 precincts are reporting, bringing the unofficial vote total to 99.88 percent complete. The Virginia Public Access Project notes the state’s total is missing votes from precincts in Albemarle, Isle of Wight, Radford and Rockingham.
The group also says absentee ballots in Dinwiddie, Roanoke and Winchester are not yet part of the State Board's total.
“We will be watching the results closely so that we can ensure Virginians have confidence in the accuracy of the results,” Gillespie said Wednesday.
There are 3,622 provisional ballots statewide that could be counted, if they qualify. Provisional ballots are used if voters do not appear on the roll, or attempt to cast votes without photo identification.
While the Gillespie campaign vowed to closely monitor the results, Warner’s team remained defiant that the Senator would return to Washington and serve a second term.
“There is really no precedent for a lead of this magnitude changing over the course of this process or any other recount process Mr. Gillespie may consider,” Elias said. “The margin here is close, but it’s not small.”
As the dust from Election Night settled, Virginia’s election map appeared dramatically different from Sen. Warner’s first successful Senate campaign. While Warner lost only six of the Commonwealth’s 133 municipalities back in 2008, Virginia now appears to be a sea of red, with populated pockets of blue supporting Warner.
2008 U.S. Senate Race, Blue: Warner, Red: Gilmore
2014 U.S. Senate Race, Blue: Warner, Red: Gillespie