Virginia Republican Wins State House Seat Through Random Drawing

"It does seem like a sudden end to the story to have to end on a game of chance"

By luck of the draw, incumbent Republican David Yancey won a Virginia state House of Delegates race so close that its outcome was determined Thursday when an elections official pulled his name out of a ceramic bowl. 

The drawing of lots happened after the race between Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelley Simonds ended in tie.

The win allows Republicans to maintain a slim majority in the House, though a final tally is still uncertain because Simonds could ask for another recount. Adding another wrinkle: Another close legislative race is in doubt because it's locked in a court battle. 

The drawing for who will represent District 94, in Newport News, drew quite a crowd to the Virginia elections board meeting. Most of the people packed into the room were Simonds' supporters. Yancey did not attend because of heavy snowfall but did have a representative there. 

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As Yancey's name was announced, Simonds sat stoically, holding the hands of her daughter and husband seated beside her. She 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. 

Her supporters left the room disappointed and she addressed the media. 

"This is a sad conclusion for me," she said. "It does seem like a sudden end to the story to have to end on a game of chance." 

However, she did not rule out asking for a recount. 

"For me, all options are still on the table," she said. 

Mitchell Pleasure, a Harvard University student from Fairfax County, said he went to Richmond to see the drawing because it was so strange. 

"I was laughing a little bit because I think it’s a ridiculous process for deciding an election where there's 23,000 people's votes decided by the flip of a coin, basically," he said. 

Before the drawing, officials detailed how it would work. 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. 

It's been nearly 50 years since a legislative seat was settled by drawing lots in Virginia. In 1971, Republican William H. Moss Sr. appeared to lose the election for a seat in northern Virginia. But after a recount ended in a tie, Moss was declared the winner after a blindfolded state elections official pulled his name out of a large decorative cup, according to news reports at the time. 

The race between Yancey, a three-term incumbent, and Simonds has bounced back and forth since the November election, when Virginia Democrats - fueled by voter anger directed at Republican President Donald Trump -  wiped out a 66-34 advantage held by Republicans in the House. The election has been widely seen as a potential harbinger of the 2018 midterm congressional elections. 

Simonds appeared to have lost the November election by 10 votes, but on Dec. 19, 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.

At the heart of the dispute is 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 ballot wasn't counted during the recount and was identified after a Republican election official raised concerns the following day. 

With Yancey's win, Republicans hold a slim, 51-49 advantage over Democrats in the Virginia House. But the race may not be over. Simonds could ask for another recount, a move that would likely delay a winner being declared before the 2018 legislative session begins next week. That would still allow Republicans to elect a speaker and make committee assignments based on a 50-49 advantage. 

The balance of power in the House could shift again because a lawsuit is pending over the results of another House race in Northern Virginia. Democrat Joshua Cole lost to Republican Bob Thomas by 73 votes in a recount. But voters filed a federal lawsuit after at least 147 ballots were found to be assigned to the wrong districts. A federal court hearing on that election is schedule for Friday.

The General Assembly is set to reconvene Wednesday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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