National News

Tied Virginia Race That Was Headed for Name-Drawing Gets Another Twist

Posted December 26, 2017 9:22 p.m. EST
Updated December 26, 2017 9:24 p.m. EST

RICHMOND, Va. — A race that would tip control of Virginia’s House of Delegates, whose constant and nearly comic pendulums between candidates has attracted national attention, took one more twist Tuesday when a drawing to break a tie was unexpectedly postponed.

The Virginia State Board of Elections announced it would delay a drawing of lots after receiving a letter from lawyers for the Democratic candidate, Shelly Simonds, that she was legally fighting the ruling of a recount court last week.

The election board’s one-line announcement, on Twitter, came just hours after an announcement that there would be a live video stream of the drawing, which was to be held adjacent to the State Capitol, in response to the huge interest in the race beyond Virginia.

Republicans, who have held majorities for 17 years in the state House, cling to a 51-49 edge after a Democratic wave in elections last month. A Simonds victory would force a bipartisan power sharing and give Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor-elect, an improved shot at enacting liberal priorities.

A drawing in the event of a tie — picking out of a bowl one of two film canisters with the candidates’ names inside — is decreed by state law. That was where the race in House District 94 was headed until Tuesday, in a contest that has had more pirouettes than a prima ballerina since voters went to the polls seven weeks ago, choosing the Republican incumbent, David Yancey, by 10 votes.

James Alcorn, the chairman of the election board, said that although the scheduled drawing was in full compliance with the law, “neutral election administrators should not be choosing election winners — or influencing the next speaker of the House.”

“Drawing names is an action of last resort,” he added.

A recount last week produced a quake beneath Yancey’s feet, after Simonds, a member of the school board in Newport News, emerged one vote ahead.

Then, in a reversal the next day, a three-judge court reviewing the recount chose to include a questionable ballot for Yancey. The election was deadlocked: 11,608 votes each.

Simonds said Tuesday she would file motions with the recount court in Newport News challenging its decision about the questionable ballot, which had been brought before the court by lawyers for Yancey.

Simonds’ lawyers said the ballot had been thrown out in the recount for good cause and should never have been reconsidered. It shows that a voter filled in bubbles for both Yancey and Simonds, then drew a faint line through the Simonds vote. Simonds’ lawyers argue that the court is opening a Pandora’s box by letting ballots that were uncontested during the recount to be introduced piecemeal during the customary judicial certification of the recount.

“I stand by the results of the recount," Simonds told reporters on a conference call. “I believe it was a fair process guided by rules.” Yancey had not liked the recount, she said, so he “made an end run” in court.

Yancey had not made a public statement as of early Tuesday evening. Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said: “We believe the court acted appropriately and that the integrity of the process is without question. We are reviewing the filing and determining what, if any, response we might file.”