Lunenburg County sheriff’s race still not over, recount set

Published 6:13 am Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Almost a month after this year’s election, we still don’t have an official winner in the Lunenburg County sheriff’s race. After challenger Michael Fowlkes issued a complaint about the process, he then requested and was granted a recount. We now know when that’ll happen. 

According to Lunenburg County Registrar Carolyn Parsons, the recount will be held on December 19, beginning at 9 a.m. Also, instead of the typical recount by hand, each ballot will once again be fed through the machine. 

Fowlkes didn’t just file a request for a recount. In order for this to happen, he had to post a bond in the amount of $10 per precinct. Now if he wins the recount, the cost of running it will be paid by Lunenburg County. However, if incumbent Arthur Townsend wins, then Fowlkes has to pay. 

Currently, the official results show Townsend with 1,844 votes, Fowlkes with 1,812 and Ronnie Long with 139, with seven write-ins. Those numbers are what the Lunenburg County Board of Elections signed off on and sent to the state.

What’s the issue? 

So there are multiple parts to Fowlkes’ complaint. To start with, he claims the ballot numbers do not match in most of the precincts. 

“In 8 out of 11 precincts, the total number given to poll captains are different from what is posted on the government website,” Fowlkes says in the complaint. 

Specifically he cites these examples: 

  • Plymouth: 293 total was verbalized, 290 was reported to state
  • Browns Store: 403 was verbalized, 402 was reported to state
  • Rosebud: 202 was verbalized, 200 was reported to state 
  • Hounds Creek: 356 was verbalized, 350 was reported to state
  • Arrowhead: 164 was verbalized, 162 was reported to state 
  • Reedy Creek: 217 was verbalized, 213 was reported to state
  • Pleasant Grove: 243 was verbalized 249 was reported to state 
  • Victoria Library: 160 was verbalized, 161 was reported to state

When a complaint is filed, the Virginia Department of Elections contacts the local Board of Elections and lets them respond. Oliver Wright from the Lunenburg Board of Elections was asked to respond in this case. He said the numbers mentioned above weren’t wrong, because they weren’t referring to the same thing.  

“We found that the numbers were accurate but confusing because they represented different things,” Wright said. “The two different things that were reported were the turnout (ie. the number of people who voted and the number of ballots scanned by the voting machines) and the number of votes in each race.”

Basically, Wright said the verbalized number is the total number of people who voted at a precinct, that is the ballots cast on the machine. However, not everyone who voted picked a candidate in the sheriff’s race or some voted for more than one, which is also not counted. That’s why the numbers turned in to the state are different. 

Lunenburg County sheriff’s race questions

In the complaint, Fowlkes also raised the issue of what happened on Election Night. On Election Night, there was some confusion in the race, as state results seemed to show Fowlkes as the winner. At the time, Wright gave an interview to another media outlet in the area, saying there was a glitch in the system. He said the same thing when interviewed the next day by The Dispatch’s reporter Jeff Moore. 

Wright said as they worked to input results after the polls closed, the new State Board of Elections software froze up. Wright explained this meant the numbers in the reporting system people were viewing on the state website were incomplete. 

But Fowlkes raised a point in his complaint. If there was a glitch in the system, “who is correcting it, how is it being corrected and is there a state representative present to make sure the process to count is being done fairly and accurately,” he wrote. 

Wright responded that the voting system worked. The glitch was with the software that helped load the totals online for the state. 

“We noticed that on Election Night, some of the numbers did not correspond to the numbers we were inputting and the site was not updating,” Wright said. “[We] notified (The Virginia Department of Elections) and they did an investigation and the discrepancy was corrected. We also made sure that any discrepancies were corrected the next morning.”