National News

Virginia Official Pulls Republican’s Name From Bowl to Pick Winner of Tied Race

Posted January 4, 2018 7:05 p.m. EST

An official of the Virginia State Board of Elections pulled the name of David Yancey from a blue and white stoneware bowl Thursday, breaking a tied race that is pivotal to control of the state House of Delegates.

The outcome in favor of Yancey, the Republican incumbent, means the House remains narrowly in his party’s hands, 51 seats to 49, after a Democratic wave in November propelled by anger at President Donald Trump. Going into the election, the Republicans had a 32-seat advantage.

The random drawing, a species of political unicorn that attracted attention well beyond Virginia, was conducted in the Patrick Henry Building near the state Capitol in Richmond shortly after 11 a.m. Each candidate’s name was written on strips of paper, inserted into film canisters and mixed together in the handmade bowl, made by the potter-in-residence at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Steven Glass.

Despite the high ceremony, the drawing may not bring finality to a race that has already been fiercely fought through a recount and in court skirmishes. By state law, the loser in the drawing may request a second recount.

The Democratic challenger, Shelly Simonds, a school board member in Newport News, said after the drawing that “all options are still on the table.'’ But she also sounded resigned. “You know it was a long, hard election season, and it does seem like a sad end to the story to have to end on a game of chance,'’ she told reporters.

Yancey did not attend the drawing, which was thronged with news cameras and livestreamed on Facebook, but he called on his opponent afterward to move on. “The election is behind us, the outcome is clear, and my responsibility now is to begin the work I was re-elected to do,'’ Yancey said in a statement. On Twitter, he thanked “all of the kids I have coached in high school rugby who have inspired me to keep fighting.'’

Simonds had proposed to Yancey on Wednesday that each should pledge to forgo a second recount if they lost the drawing. Yancey rejected the offer.

Republican leaders in the House called on the Democrat to give up the fight, despite her right to ask for a second recount.

“This was a historic election, but now it’s time to begin the work of governing,'’ said House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert.

For one day last month, when the initial recount gave Simonds a one-vote lead in the race, Democrats celebrated the end of 17 years of Republican majorities in the House. Republicans even said in a statement that with control evenly divided, they looked forward to a power-sharing arrangement.

But a three-judge recount court, reviewing the count the next day, added an additional ballot for Yancey. That tied the race at 11,607 apiece, and created the need for the random drawing called for under Virginia law. Simonds asked the court to reconsider its decision on the single ballot, but the court rejected the request earlier this week.

If Simonds requests a second recount, it probably would not be complete by Jan. 10, when the House of Delegates is scheduled to reconvene. Republicans said Thursday that in the past, members have not been seated when a recount of their race was in progress. But even without Yancey, they would still have one more vote than the Democrats.

“We’ve been clear that we intend to organize the House on the first day of session,'’ said Kirk Cox, a Republican who is expected to be chosen as speaker.

Control of the speakership on opening day brings with it a bag of political goodies, including control over committee assignments and House rules, which will determine which bills make it to the floor, amplifying Republican influence over a chamber that is nearly equally divided.

Virginia Democrats had hoped that under Ralph Northam, the governor-elect and a Democrat, thwarted liberal priorities would break through a logjam of Republican control of both houses of the General Assembly. Expanding Medicaid in the state was high on that list.

Democrats have angrily pointed to the gerrymandered House of Delegates map, saying that it unfairly prevented them from gaining control, even though their candidates received 10 percentage points more votes statewide than their Republican rivals. The drawing was held with the three members of the state Elections Board seated at a long table. Noting that they usually attracted only one or two journalists to their meetings, the members sounded and acted a bit nervous.

James B. Alcorn, the chairman and a Democrat, said there was “a fair amount of interest in which bowl we would use.'’ For the drawings the board routinely conducts to decide the order in which candidates are listed on ballots, he said, “we have been using a glass bowl for many years, and more recently a cardboard box.'’ For this occasion, though, he said he asked the fine arts museum for something special.

Strips of paper with the candidates’ names were rolled and inserted into old film canisters and placed in the bowl. The vice chairwoman, Clara Belle Wheeler, a Republican, then gave the bowl a stir, and Alcorn plucked the winner. It was the first time since 1971 that Virginia broke a tied legislative race by random drawing.

Wheeler gave a long statement about the importance of ensuring that elections are trustworthy. For this reason, she said, in the 2017 election Virginia exclusively used paper ballots, which can be inspected in the event of a recount.

“Voting is a very serious thing,'’ Wheeler said.

The drawing happened the day after Trump dismissed his voter fraud commission, which he had set up after claiming without evidence that millions of illegal votes were cast in the presidential election of 2016. The commission was dissolved before issuing a report.

At the end of her statement, Wheeler indirectly addressed the unknown voter in House District 94 whose disputed ballot had tied the race. The voter had blackened in bubbles for both Yancey and Simonds, which would ordinarily cause the ballot not to be counted. But the voter had also drawn a slash through the Simonds bubble, and the recount court ruled that the ballot should be counted as a vote for Yancey.

“Sometimes you make a mistake,'’ Wheeler said. “All you have to do is give your ballot to the election official in the room,” and get a fresh one to try again, she said.