A Republican won a Virginia state House of Delegates race so close that its outcome was determined by pulling his name out of a ceramic bowl Thursday. AP
A group of recounters get some help filling out the paperwork as they recount the ballots for the 94th District on Dec. 19, 2017, in Hampton, Va.(Photo: Joe Fudge, AP)
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The winner of a crucial Virginia House of Delegates race was decided for the GOP candidate by lot Thursday after judges rejected a Democratic challenge of one vote that could have broken a tie.
Republican incumbent David Yancey was the victor after a small canister holding a slip of paper with his name was drawn from a ceramic bowl. Yancey claims the 94th district seat in Newport News, and the GOP will retain its majority by 51-49.
A victory for Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds would have split the House 50-50.
“This election has certainly shown the importance of every vote and the power of one single vote,” said James Alcorn, chairman of the State Board of Elections. Then, after drawing a canister, he announced: “The winner of House District 94 is David Yancey.”
But the drawing may not be the end of it. On Wednesday, Yancey declined an offer from Simonds to make the drawing final, so Simonds had promised that “all options are on the table” if she lost. Simonds, who attended the drawing, did not say whether she would seek a recount or court challenge.
“At this moment I am not conceding,” a solemn Simonds said after the drawing. “I am reflecting on a very interesting campaign and a very hard-fought campaign.”
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, told USA TODAY that Simonds may have grounds to keep her challenge alive. But Republicans, armed with the victory by lot, “will organize the House and set the rules for the next two years” before any recounts or appeals can be completed, he said.
Yancey is a three-term delegate trying to avoid the fate of more than a dozen of his House colleagues swept away on an Election Day tidal wave that obliterated the two-thirds Republican majority. Democrat Ralph Northam also won the governor‘s race.
The bitter battle for a job that pays less than $18,000 per year thus drew national attention as it swung back and forth between the candidates amid recounts and court battles.
On election night, Yancey appeared to have won the race by several votes. A recount last month put Simonds on top by one vote, but the victory was short-lived. The next day a three-judge panel ruled the race a tie, thanks to a ballot that marked circles next to both Simonds‘ and Yancey‘s names.
The ballot had been thrown out, but the judges determined it should be counted because Simonds‘ circle had a slash through it. The judges on Wednesday rejected a request from Simonds to reconsider their decision.
Tobias said the recount “may not have been too rigorous,” and Simonds could seek a more thorough one. He also said the court‘s decision on the disputed ballot “was not persuasive” — but that Simonds was unlikely to win a challenge in state court.
However the race is ultimately decided, it may not determine the balance of power in the House after all. Democrats have raised a challenge in another district, won by the GOP candidate, in which some voters were provided an incorrect ballot. A court hearing on that race is set for Friday.
Clara Belle Wheeler, the Election Board‘s vice chair, said a drawing to decide a House race was last held in 1971. The drawing Thursday, however, was “unprecedented” because it dictated which party will control the House, she said.
“This has never been done before for the longest-running, oldest legislative body, if you will, in the New World,” Wheeler said.
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