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Wilder declared winner; Coleman mounts challenge

By
TIM COX

RICHMOND, Va. -- The State Board of Elections declared Democrat Douglas Wilder the official winner of the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election Monday, but Republican Marshall Coleman challenged the outcome on two fronts.

Wilder, who will become the nation's first black elected governor when he is inaugurated Jan. 13, received 897,139 votes to Coleman's 890,285, according to official results certified by the three-member board. The difference was 6,854 votes, or .38 percent.

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Coleman, a former state attorney general, announced he would ask for a recount and also filed documents to contest the outcome in the Democrat-led General Assembly.

'I have even heard from numerous Virginians who voted for my opponent, but who regard a recount as appropriate and desirable given the remarkable closeness of the contest,' Coleman said in a statement issued at Republican state headquarters.

In his challenge, Coleman contended that voter registration lists contained names of people who were ineligible to vote. But Susan Fitz-Hugh, secretary of the Board of Elections, said that allegation contained no names and specified no localities.

Wilder aides appeared unfazed by Coleman's action, although some state party officials complained the Republican was going too far.

'We think the election was pretty official on Nov. 7,' Wilder spokesman Laura Dillard said earlier.

But Lawrence Framme, chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, labeled Coleman's maneuver an 'unprecedented attack on the integrity of Virginia's electoral process' and an 'attack on the integrity of state and local election officials.'

Wilder won 'fair and square -- the same way every other governor has won,' Framme said.

Fitz-Hugh could not say how long it would take to conduct the recount but promised it would be completed before the inauguration.

She agreed the challenge was 'an attack on the system' and added that she did not believe it would change the outcome.

Fitz-Hugh also was unable to estimate how much the recount will cost, noting the expenses would vary depending on what method a three-judge panel chooses to perform the tally. Since the margin of Wilder's victory was less than .5 percent, the recount will be paid by the state.

The three-judge panel is to be headed by Richmond Circuit Judge Melvin Hughes and Virginia Supreme Court Justice Harry Carrico is to appoint the other two judges.

To be successful in his move in the General Assembly, Coleman would have to persuade state lawmakers Wilder is ineligible to take office or that the vote was mishandled to such a degree the outcome is in doubt.

Since the election, Wilder has proceeded as the governor-elect, planning his inauguration and for an orderly transition from the Democratic adminstration of Gov. Gerald Baliles. Wilder has been lieutenant governor for the past four years.

Coleman never conceded the race to Wilder and indicated the night of the election -- and ever since -- that he would ask for a recount. His aides last week studied voter registration records in preparation for a challenge.

John Rust Jr., a Republican member on the election board, said Coleman was within his rights to challenge the results, disputing the argument that the move was an attack on the electoral process.

'He has a right to contest the election,' added the board's other member, chairman Earl Davis. 'It appears the results are going to be the same,' he noted, because of the extensive use of voting machines.

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