Dems Reportedly Take the Senate

Nov. 9, 2006 — -- Democrat Jim Webb will be the winner in the Virginia Senate race, tipping the scales in both houses of Congress to the Democrats, according to The Associated Press.

An AP survey that tabulated the votes from Virginia's 134 localities found that Webb would win the race. That would give Democrats the sixth seat they need to win control of the Senate.

Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen's campaign has not commented on the AP report, but some sources suggested he might concede the race as early as Thursday.

Webb was leading Allen by a count of 1,172,538 to 1,165,302 -- a difference of 7,236, according to the AP.

Though Webb already declared victory Tuesday night in the tightest race in the nation, a Virginia GOP official told ABC News tonight that Republicans in the state remained hopeful and weren't ready to concede.

"There's still canvassing going on," the official said. "We're still optimistic."

The official pointed to a canvass in Stafford County today that the the official said swung 1,500 votes from Webb to Allen, an assertion not verified but first made by former Republican National Committee chairman and Allen adviser Ed Gillespie this afternoon at a news conference.

The official also pointed out that during the canvass of last year's tight attorney general race, more than 2,000 votes swung from the eventual victor.

The official declined to speculate on whether Allen would seek a recount if the state election board certified Webb as the winner.

There are no automatic recounts in Virginia, but state law allows a candidate who finishes half a percentage point or less behind to request one.

With a margin greater than half a point but less than one percentage point, the trailing candidate can also seek a recount.

Jean Jensen, secretary of the state Board of Elections in Virginia, told ABC News that if a recount was requested, it would not start until Nov. 28 because of the state's elaborate set of rules and laws governing the vote certification and recount processes.

Tuesday was the first time all Virginians who cast ballots in person used electronic voting machines in a general election.

Virginia uses DRE machines, optical scan and ballot-marking devices made by Diebold, Sequoia, UniLect, Advanced Voting Solutions, Hart InterCivic and ES& S.

Despite the use of electronic machines, Virginia did not require machines to produce a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail, which could raise some questions about how a potential recount would be conducted and whether it would be difficult to obtain an unassailable vote count.

The canvass of Virginia precincts began this morning. Officials across the state are going over their numbers -- and counting provisional ballots -- to ensure accuracy.

They have seven days -- starting today -- to complete the canvass, though it usually takes no more than three days, state election experts told ABC News.

After canvassing, all the results go to the state Board of Elections, which meets on the fourth Monday in November, the 27th, to officially certify the results.

Once they are certified, a candidate may petition for a recount. He or she has 10 days to do so.

Jensen said that no recount petition in recent memory had been denied. The recount would be supervised by a three-judge panel and takes two weeks to three weeks.

It may sound like an enormous amount of work, but both parties have been preparing for eventualities like this. A team of lawyers and legal volunteers has been in place in virtually every competitive state for weeks -- a lesson learned after 2000.

"I think there are always lessons you can learn from any election," said Danny Diaz, spokesman for the Republican National Committee. "And clearly making sure every legal vote is counted is something that's important to our party and to our country."

Chris Francescani contributed to this report

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