A battle over one vote has left control of the Virginia House of Delegates up in the air – and headed for the winner’s name to be drawn at random.
After a recount Tuesday had Democrat Shelly Simonds declaring victory by a margin of one vote over Republican Del. David Yancey and Virginia Republicans conceding defeat, a three-judge panel deliberating the recount Wednesday declared a previously uncounted vote for Yancey valid.
Virginia law says that in the event of a tie, the election board will determine the winner “by lot,” after which point Republicans believe the loser can petition for another recount; however, there is some disagreement among Virginia election experts as to how the law should be applied in this case.
James Alcorn, chairman of Virginia’s board of elections, told CNN they would like to schedule the lot as soon as possible, hopefully shortly after Christmas. He cautioned that he had not received official word from the recount judges that the lot will be necessary.
The board of elections’ process for drawing lots involves printing out both candidates’ names and cutting them into equal sized, individual sheets of paper, then putting them into separate film canisters. The board has yet to determine what it will put the canisters into – like a bowl, hat or box – for the drawing. The first name drawn would be the winner.
Alcorn, a lawyer, said Virginia code makes it clear the loser could then petition for another recount.
The panel’s decision Wednesday meant that what had been a one-vote victory for Simonds became a tie. A victory for the Democrat would split control of the House of Delegates 50-50 and end Republican control of the chamber, while a victory for the Republican would mean the GOP would continue in the majority.
A split would mean Virginia Republicans and Democrats must craft a power-sharing agreement, which would include committee assignments and who is elected speaker of the House.
In the initial count, Simonds had been behind by 10 votes, and the recount found her ahead instead by one vote.
Virginia Republicans released a statement Tuesday afternoon conceding the race after the “close recount” and said they “stood ready” to forge a bipartisan, power-sharing agreement for the chamber. But on Wednesday, Republicans asked the judges to look at an uncounted vote for Yancey, and the panel agreed, bringing the race to a tie.
“While it appeared yesterday that Shelly Simonds was elected, it’s obvious now that the result will remain unclear for a while longer,” Virginia House Republican leadership said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement continued, “The State Board of Elections will publicly meet to make a determination by drawing lots, after which the loser may request an additional recount.”
Marc Elias, the attorney for the Virginia House Democrats, on Wednesday afternoon issued a statement blasting the panel’s decision that led to the tie and saying they were considering their legal options.
“Today’s decision by the court was wrong, and Delegate-elect Shelly Simonds should have been certified the winner,” Elias’ statement read. “We are currently assessing all legal options before us as we fight for a just result.”
The outsize impact of the one-vote margin came after other close results in off-year elections across the country. A city council race in Idaho came down to a coin toss and a recount Monday, resulting in the discovery of one new ballot that tilted the race for the incumbent. In the Alabama US Senate election earlier this month, a potentially decisive share of voters wrote in candidates in a race that saw Democrat Doug Jones defeat Republican Roy Moore.