Recount favors Carter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

One month to the day it’s finally official – William Randolph Carter Jr. will serve the next eight years as Suffolk’s Clerk of the Courts.

The announcement was made Wednesday around 3:30 p.m. by Suffolk Circuit Court Judge Westbrook J. Parker following a recount of votes cast in the Nov. 4 election.

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As requested by the judge yesterday in a courtroom proceeding, Howard Bennett, one of the officials who served in the recount process, read the results of the tabulation: Attorney Kirk Pretlow, 2,477; Carter 2,591, or a difference of only 114 votes.

Ironically, the recount was requested by Pretlow because the Nov. 4 unofficial vote results had Carter’s margin of victory at 128, but when the three member Board of Elections canvassed the votes Nov. 5, they found the margin to be only 16.

After the numbers were read, Judge Parker asked if either candidate had remarks. Pretlow thanked the court and the recount officials for the manner in which the procedure was handled. He also congratulated Randy Carter.

Prior to the official court proceedings, Pretlow approached Carter at the front of the courtroom, said a few words and smiled as Carter heartily patted his back. The pair has faced off in Suffolk’s Circuit Courts for years; Pretlow as a defense lawyer and Carter as Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney. He’s served in the prosecutor’s office for the past 17 years, and was in private practice for five years with his father, William Randolph Carter Sr., a well-respected member of the legal community.

As for Carter, after five grueling hours of pacing the hallways of the Godwin Courts Building, he sat a moment inside courtroom #1.

&uot;I guess I know now how the defendants feel in this court room,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve got a jury of four deciding my fate.&uot;

The four of which Carter spoke included the election officials chosen by the candidates. Pretlow chose Nellie Carbaugh and Marvin C. Winslow, and Carter chose Thomas Rountree and Howard Bennett, who was an alternate replacing one of Carter’s two representatives who had been stricken with flu. Each candidate had two alternatives in case of such an event, and the other three alternates were on call during the entire recount process.

Behind locked doors in the jury deliberation room, David Sylvia, head of Suffolk’s Electoral Board, and two judges from other jurisdictions, Warren Stephens and Joseph Spruill of the Northern Neck area, met at 10 a.m. to begin the recount.

They had with them large manila envelopes containing the actual election tally sheets from the voting machines. The accuracy and operation of the machines had never been questioned. The officials also had the printouts from the voting machines and hand ballots to examine.

As instructed by Parker, who presided over the process, the examination of the tally sheets continued as Pretlow’s brother, Attorney Josh Pretlow, and Carter’s representative, Chris Ashby, observed.

Ashby is an attorney with the firm of Troutman Sanders LLP of Richmond, the firm whose attorneys assisted in drafting the new Virginia Recount Laws.

&uot;We tried today to make sure we got it right and we took our time and got it right,&uot; said Ashby. &uot;I am very pleased with this process today and the judges and the recount officials did a great job.&uot;

According to Ashby, this event marked the first time the Virginia Recount Law has been put to the test. The law was written after the Florida fiasco in which ballots were miscounted due to mechanical failure of the voting machines. There is no appeal process now that the judge has made his final decision.

Carter, after the judge’s announcement, took a deep breath, called his wife, and then said he’s glad the courts have closed the book on this election.

&uot;I appreciate the openness and honesty and the manner in which Kirk handled the election process,&uot; said Carter. &uot;I told him that if I was in his position I would also have called for a recount.&uot;

Because it’s taken a full month to finalize the 2003 election for clerk of court, Carter said he’s lost time in the transition in moving to the office where he’s spent many hours working for the past 17 years.

&uot;I have a lot of work to do between now and end of year to effect a smooth transition to the office of clerk of court,&uot; he added. &uot;Once I’m sworn to office, I expect everything to go along smoothly, and I certainly look forward to working with the citizens of Suffolk. I would also like to thank each and every one who came out to exercise their right to vote.&uot;

Carter also noted that he would urge citizens of Suffolk to register to vote and then exercise that Constitutional right.

&uot;I am living proof that every vote counts,&uot; said the clerk. &uot;I fully agreed with Kirk’s statement regarding a handicapped lady who came to the King’s Fork polls to vote and had to be helped from her car. While she struggled to get to the voting machines, Kirk said, another 70 percent of those registered did not vote.

Of the approximately 45,000 registered voters, only about 10,250, or 20 percent, cast ballots.

&uot;And, that was on a perfectly beautiful Indian summer day,&uot; Carter noted.

As Carter takes office Jan. 1, he steps into a position held by the late Henry C. Murden, former clerk of the court who assisted citizens of Suffolk for more than 50 years. Murden announced that he was retiring late last fall, naming Carter as his choice for replacing him.