New governor of scandal-plagued Virginia could be decided by way of ceramic bowl

With Virginia's governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general all mired in political scandal and facing calls to resign, the state's next chief executive could be a Republican -- all because a name was randomly picked out of a ceramic bowl two years ago.

Should Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam step aside because of the blackface photograph that recently surfaced in his medical school yearbook, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would be next in line to succeed him -- except that a newly revived sexual-assault allegation has put his political future in doubt. Freshman Virginia Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton tweeted her support for Fairfax's accuser on Wednesday, writing: "I believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson."

Also on Wednesday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, the next in the line of succession, posted a lengthy statement admitting he, too, had donned blackface -- this, during a college party in 1980. He said he'd brown makeup and a wig to look like a black rapper during a party at the University of Virginia.

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The multiple, developing scandals raised the possibility that all three top Democrats will ultimately vacate their posts. A slew of prominent Democrats have already called for Northam to resign, and the Virginia Democratic Party has said the allegation against Fairfax is of "profound gravity." (Elections will be held in Virginia in November, and Democrats had hoped to make significant gains in the state legislature.)

Kirk Cox, the conservative Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, follows Herring in the line of succession under the state Constitution, and would assume the governorship if Northam, Fairfax, and Herring step aside.

How Cox rose to his current post is a tale almost as bizarre and unexpected as the current brouhaha engulfing the Virginia establishment.

House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, front right, speaks during a press conference as Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, left, listens at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Cox answered questions about the late term abortion bill that was killed in committee. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, front right, speaks during a press conference as Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, left, listens at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Cox answered questions about the late term abortion bill that was killed in committee. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

In January 2018, three-term incumbent Republican David Yancey won a Virginia state House of Delegates race for the 94th District so close that its outcome was determined when an elections official pulled his name out of a ceramic bowl designed by a ceramicist at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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The drawing of lots happened after the race between Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelley Simonds ended in a tie. The win allowed Republicans to maintain a slim majority in the House, and secured Cox's position as third in the line of succession.

The Yancey-Simonds contest has bounced back and forth since the November 2017 election, when Virginia Democrats — fueled by voter anger directed at President Trump — wiped out a 66-34 advantage that had been held by Republicans in the House.

Simonds appeared to have lost the November 2017 election by 10 votes, but on Dec. 19 of that year, she won a recount by a single vote. The next day, a three-judge panel declared a tie based on a previously uncounted vote for Yancey, with each candidate receiving 11,608 votes.

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At the heart of the dispute was a single ballot on which the voter filled in the bubble for both Simonds and Yancey. The voter also drew a single slash through the bubble for Simonds and picked Republican candidates in statewide races.

The court determined that the single slash was an attempt by the voter, whose identity was not revealed, to invalidate the vote for Simonds. Complicating matters, however, was that the voter also made a slash mark on the ballot for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie -- a vote that the court counted for Gillespie because Northam's ballot circle had no markings.

The ballot wasn't counted during the recount and was identified after a Republican election official raised concerns the following day.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and accuser Dr. Vanessa Tyson (Getty Images/Scripps College)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and accuser Dr. Vanessa Tyson (Getty Images/Scripps College)

After the drawing from the ceramic bowl, election board members asked the public to make sure that they correctly fill out ballots in future contests.

The drawing drew a large, if lopsided, crowd to the Virginia elections board meeting. Many of the people packed into the room were either reporters or Simonds' supporters. Yancey did not attend but did have a few GOP staffers there to watch.

The name of each candidate was printed on a piece of paper and placed into separate film canisters. The canisters were put into a cobalt-blue-and-white ceramic bowl made by a local artist, stirred around and Yancey's name was chosen first.

As Yancey's name was announced by Board Chairman James Alcorn, Simonds sat stoically, holding the hands of her daughter and husband seated beside her. There were no cheers from Yancey's few supporters. The electric mood went suddenly still.

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Simonds endured a long moment of silence as the elections officials certified Yancey as the winner. The only sound in the room was the clicking of cameras, most of which were trained on Simonds.

Many state workers and staffers who work for then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe quickly left the room disappointed and Simonds addressed the media.

"This is a sad conclusion for me," she said.

Fox News' Brooke Singman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.