Michael Fowlkes makes his decision about election complaint

Michael Fowlkes has made his decision. The challenger in the Lunenburg County sheriff’s race told The Dispatch he is requesting a recount. The Virginia Department of Elections confirmed he submitted the paperwork for that request on Wednesday, Nov. 22. 

“There are no automatic recounts, but candidates can request one,” Andrea Gaines from the Virginia Department of Elections said. “Candidates may also file election contests.” 

Now a recount, what Fowlkes is requesting, is simple. That’s when a candidate says he or she believes there was a malfunction with the equipment or some other reason that the ballots were not counted correctly. In that case, the local board of elections would simply count the votes again, this time by hand. However, this isn’t free. The challenger asking for the recount would have to first post a bond in the amount of $10 per precinct. If the challenger wins the recount, the cost of running it would be paid by Lunenburg County. But if the challenger loses, then he has to pay. 

If a candidate is contesting the election, then that gets a bit more complicated. Then it becomes a legal case and goes before the county circuit court judge. 

Currently, the official results show incumbent sheriff Arthur 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. 

As for when that recount will take place, a specific date still hasn’t been decided, but it’s expected to be set within the next week. 

The complaint from Michael Fowlkes 

So there are multiple parts to Fowlkes’ complaint, which The Dispatch obtained a copy of. 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

Now there are other parts to the complaint, but they venture into legal territory, so we’ll tackle those in a minute. 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. 

A glitch in the system 

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 Michael 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.” 

A third party involved

The system, Wright explained, was operated by a third party, who he referred to as Advanced Voting Support. In a statement they provided, however, that third party called itself Enhanced Voting Support. Speaking on behalf of his group, Paul Ray explained what the issue was on their end. 

“At approximately 8:30 PM on Election Night, we experienced an issue where all Early Voting and Mailed Absentee was set to auto roll up. This caused the summary totals that had been entered to drop. We identified the issue and changed the setting back. In our research, our developers were able to restore the detailed entry that had (been) inputed prior to the change. This is why the totals appeared to fluctuate, but no data was lost and what had been input was restored,” Ray said. 

So that is where we currently stand in regards to the election complaint from Michael Fowlkes. As soon as the recount date is decided and done, we’ll report the results both online and in print.