By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - Lawyers for the losing Republican candidate in a tight race for Virginia attorney general filed a petition in Richmond Circuit Court on Wednesday for a recount of the votes.
In results certified on Monday by the Virginia State Board of Elections, out of 2.2 million votes cast in the November 5 election, only 165 separated Republican Mark Obenshain from Democrat Mark Herring, who has declared victory.
Overseeing the recount will be a three-judge panel consisting of the chief judge of the Richmond Circuit Court and two other judges named by the chief judge of the Virginia Supreme Court.
The Republican team looks forward to a recount process that is civil and fair in "the closest race in Virginia history," said Stephen Piepgrass, an attorney for Obenshain, in a press conference call on Wednesday.
Herring said in a statement that he affirmed Obenshain's right to "pursue electoral victory to an ultimate conclusion" beyond the original count, canvass and certification of votes that had already occurred.
"His tactics will not impede our efforts to build the finest team to serve all Virginians in the Office of Attorney General or prepare for the 2014 legislative session," Herring said in the statement.
Because the difference in the votes cast for Herring and Obenshain, both state senators, is less than one-half of 1 percent, Virginia localities will bear the cost of the recount.
Obenshain's team seems to be particularly interested in examining what are called "under votes," in which a person votes for a lesser number of candidates than he is entitled to vote for on the ballot.
Obershain's lawyer agreed with an estimate cited by the Republican's campaign that as many as 25,000 to 50,000 under votes have yet to be counted.
Optical scan tabulators typically reject such ballots.
Under state law, these votes - and others including write-ins and over votes, which are ballots in which voters marked more than the maximum number of selections allowed - had to be set aside and counted by hand in the localities.
Piepgrass said he expected a recount to be set for mid-December, and that most localities could complete a recount of ballots in one to two days.
If local officials cannot agree on how to count ballots that are in dispute, the ballots will be sent to Richmond, where the three-judge panel will make the decision.
Republicans are hoping the recount will help Obenshain overtake Herring and keep the GOP in power in the attorney general's office.
The post is now held by Republican Ken Cuccinelli, whose recent bid to become governor was turned back by Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)