Democrat wins Virginia House seat in recount by single vote

The recount was one of four scheduled for House races that ended with extremely tight margins. The 94th District had by far the slimmest vote difference and the biggest chance of flipping.

Last week, Republican Del. Tim Hugo held onto his seat in Fairfax County after a recount had a marginal impact on his 100-plus vote lead. Two more recounts are set to take place on Wednesday and Thursday for districts in and around Richmond and in the Fredericksburg area.

If Democrats and Republicans ultimately find themselves evenly split, a messy dynamic could unfold. The parties may have to compromise just to elect a speaker and assign committee chairmanships.

The last time Virginia's House was evenly divided was 20 years ago, when the parties reached a power-sharing agreement. But if no agreement can be reached, prolonged chaos could ensue.


"Politics is a lot more partisan today than the last time we were in a comparable situation," said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. "It's probably a recipe for gridlock."

Speaking at lunchtime, long before the recount ended, Simonds said she was optimistic that lawmakers could find compromise and get things done in Richmond despite a split chamber.

"I'm an optimistic person," she said. "We can work with Republicans."

She cited common ground such as increasing teacher pay, expanding maternity leave for state employs and criminal justice reform that would lead to fewer people being in prison.

The recount is the first to flip the results of a Virginia House race in at least 20 years, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, said the district was far less affected than northern Virginia by the wave of sentiment against President Donald Trump.


A group of recounters get some help filling out the paperwork as they recount the ballots for the 94th District, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in Hampton, Va. Election officials said Tuesday that Democrat Shelly Simonds beat incumbent Republican Del. David Yancey by 1 vote. (Joe Fudge/The Daily Press via AP) (AP)

That wave had swept through some northern Virginia districts and galvanized college-educated voters, particularly women, who often skip off-year elections. But the watermark was lower here.

"What is the root of the wave? Trump and women," Kidd said. "If you think about the typical working class voter in this district, they may not be as excited about that intersection."

The 94th District follows the James River along the western portion Newport News, a city with a large minority population and a massive shipyard that builds aircraft carriers and submarines.

During the campaign, the candidates focused on local issues like education. Simonds took a stand against private school vouchers. Yancey called for pay raises for teachers. Both clashed along the usual political fault lines on expanding Medicaid in Virginia.

In the meantime, two more recounts are scheduled in Virginia.

The Democratic challenger leads by 336 votes in the 68th House District in and around Richmond, where ballot counting begins Wednesday.

Ballots will be recounted in the Fredericksburg area's 28th District on Thursday. The Republican candidate there has an 82-vote lead. But Democrats have already asked a judge to call for a new election after at least 147 ballots were found to be assigned to the wrong districts.