Control of Virginia’s 94th district is now up to chance

Is that a hanging chad?
Is that a hanging chad?
Image: AP/Ben Finley
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The House of Delegates race in Virginia’s 94th district ended in a tie today (Dec. 20) after a judicial panel re-examined a ballot from Tuesday’s recount that had originally ended with Democrat Shelly Simonds being declared the winner by a margin of a single vote.

The questionable ballot, which had been discounted during the recount, had a mark for Simonds as well as for Republican candidate David Yancey. The three-judge panel ruled that the mark for Simonds was crossed out so the ballot should count in Yancey’s favor, bringing the official count to 11,608 votes each.

“The court declares there is no winner in this election,” said Newport News Circuit Court Judge Bryant L. Sugg.

The panel was convened to certify the results of Tuesday’s recount, but the judges agreed to examine the ballot in question after a Republican official petitioned the court.

Republican election observers had originally signed off on the recount, but felt they were pressured by Democratic officials to discount a valid vote, House GOP leaders Kirk Cox, Tim Hugo and Nick Rush said in a statement:

“During the recount, election officials were presented with an overvote. One Republican official, and a recount observer, believed at the time the ballot was a clear vote for Delegate David Yancey. However, a Democratic official persuaded the Republican official to not count the ballot. This morning, the Republican official wrote a letter to the recount court explaining that he made the wrong decision yesterday, and that he believes the ballot should count for Delegate Yancey.”

The new vote total means that Republicans have, for the time being, narrowly avoided losing their slim 49-51 majority in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

Now, the fate of the House comes down to chance: State law says that in the case of a tie, the winner is chosen “by lot,” meaning Republican control of Virginia’s House of Delegates will essentially come down to a coin toss.

The state board of elections expects the lot to take place within the next week, but it doesn’t end there. If the loser is unhappy with the results (and he or she almost definitely will be), they’ll have the ability to request yet another recount.

And there might be hope for whichever candidate loses the draw. In another recent local election, Dick Galbraith won a seat on the City Council in Heyburn, Indiana, after the race was declared a tie, the winner was chosen by lot, and Galbraith demanded an additional recount.

If Simonds wins the lot (or recount), the result will have the power to reshape Virginia state politics after Democrat Ralph Northam won the governor’s race in November. If the House is tied when he takes office in January, Democrats will have more leverage to push for their policy priorities, like state Medicaid expansion.

Despite the urgency in Virgina’s 94th district, control of the House could be decided by other recounts taking place this week—Republicans are contesting the Democratic victory in District 68 of 336 votes, and Democrats are challenging the Republican victory in District 28 that had a margin of 82 votes.

Update 5:53 pm: The chair of the Virginia Department of Elections confirmed to a CNN reporter the lots will be put into film canisters and drawn by election board members.