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Control of Virginia House of Delegates may be decided by drawing lots

Judges overrule recount decision, leading to tie in race that will determine which party is in charge

RICHMOND (CFP) — A slip of paper drawn from a bowl on December 27 may determine whether Republicans keep control of the Virginia House of Delegates by a single vote or have to share control with Democrats, after a three-judge panel decided that a race in Newport News between Republican Delegate David Yancey and his Democratic challenger, Shelly Simonds, was a tie.

With Republicans having a 50-49 advantage in the 99 House races already decided, the outcome of the race between Yancey and Simonds will decide if Republicans keep or share control of the chamber. And because state law requires ties to be broken by drawing lots, a critical issue of legislative control may be, literally, left up to chance.

A December 19 recount gave Simonds a one-vote victory over Yancey, out of nearly 24,000 votes cast. But the panel of judges who met to certify the results the next day decided that a ballot in which the bubbles for both candidates were filled in, but the bubble for Simonds was then crossed off, should be counted as a vote for Yancey because the voter chose Republicans in the other races on the ballot. (See ballot below)

During the recount, that ballot had been discounted on the grounds that the voter had overvoted, or chosen both candidates. Once the judges put it in Yancey’s column, Simonds’s one-vote win became a tie.

Shelly Simonds

However, Simonds is now considering legal action in the wake of the judges’ decision to reexamine a single ballot at Yancey’s request, even after Republican leaders conceded the race when the outcome of the recount was announced.

“If we were going to be pulling out individual ballots, you can believe me, we would have had a few that we would have wanted the judges to look at as well,” Simonds said in an interview with MSNBC.

As things now stand, with all recounts complete, Republicans have won 50 seats in the 100-member chamber, and Democrats 49, with the District 94 seat still to be decided. However, Democrats have gone to federal court seeking a new election in District 28 in Fredericksburg, where the GOP candidate had an 73-vote lead after a recount, on the grounds that 147 voters may have cast ballots in the wrong election. A hearing in that case has been set for January 5.

State elections officials have indicated that to settle the tie, they will likely employ the procedure used to decide the order of candidates’ names on the ballot, in which pieces of paper are put in canisters that are then drawn from a glass bowl. The drawing has been scheduled for 11 a.m. on December 27 at the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond.

Heading into the November election, Republicans held a commanding 66-34 lead in the House of Delegates. But Democrats, riding a surge of suburban support, flipped 16 seats and took out 13 Republican incumbents to threaten 18 years of GOP control.

Republicans hold a narrow 21-19 lead in the Virginia Senate, whose members come up for election in 2019.

Disputed ballot in District 94

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