Published December 20, 2017
The Virginia legislative election's margin of victory just went from one to none.
A court has now declared a tie in the hotly contested race that one day earlier appeared to have gone to a Democrat by a single vote, just the latest dramatic twist in a contest that is likely to decide control of the state House.
A three-judge panel certified the 94th District in Newport News as tied at 11,608 to 11,608 on Wednesday, a day after a recount appeared to give Democrat Shelly Simonds the victory over Republican David Yancey.
Citing state election law, Virginia Board of Elections Chairman James Alcorn said the board would have to pick a winner at random, likely picking a name from a bowl.
In a statement, the Virginia House Democratic Caucus called the court's decision "wrong" and added, "We are currently assessing all legal options before us as we fight for a just result."
Reached by phone by The Associated Press, Yancey said he was "just grateful that every vote was counted." The Republican said he's preparing legislation for the next session.
Simonds' declined to comment through her husband, Paul Danehy. She was more outspoken Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. She appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe show and joked about being called "Landslide Shelly."
Yancey's attorneys successfully argued Wednesday that an uncounted ballot should have been included in his total. They cited concerns raised by a GOP election official who participated in Tuesday's recount.
The official wrote in a letter submitted to the court that he was "confused" about election board guidelines when he agreed to leave the vote uncounted.
On the ballot in question, the voter had picked Republican candidates in statewide races. For the 94th District, the voter filled in the bubble for Yancey and the bubble for Simonds. But he or she also drew a single slash through the bubble for Simonds.
Ezra Reese, an attorney for Simonds, argued that under the guidelines, the ballot should remain uncounted because it contained more than one type of extra marking.
Trevor Stanley, a lawyer for Yancey, argued that the slash in Simonds' bubble clearly meant that the voter was picking Yancey.
The judges ruled in Yancey's favor after two hours of deliberation. They also denied a request by Simonds' attorneys to review a ballot from another precinct.
The election's outcome likely will decide partisan control of the House of Delegates.
If Yancey wins, Republicans will hold on to power by one seat, 51-49.
If Simonds wins, a rare power-sharing agreement would have to be brokered between Democrats and Republicans. But if no agreement can be reached, prolonged chaos could ensue.
According to the PilotOnline.com, Virginia law states that if two or more candidates have an equal number of votes, the state board of elections will determine the winner “by lot” -- which means literally putting candidates name on a slip of paper and randomly pulling out one from a canister at random. The loser of this method can demand a second recount.
“The State Board of Elections will publicly meet to make a determination by drawing lots, after which the loser may request an additional recount,” reads a statement from the House Republican Leadership in Virginia. “As we have said consistently throughout this process, we are committed to an open, fair and honest election in which every lawful vote is counted.”
Democrats in the Virginia state House said in a statement of their own that they are looking into legal options.
“Today’s decision by the court was wrong, and Delegate-elect Shelly Simonds should have been certified the winner,” attorney Marc Elias said in a release. “The Republicans themselves had affirmed that this result was accurate yesterday before changing their minds today.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.