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Republican wins drawing to decide Virginia House race, keeping GOP in charge

A Republican won a Virginia state House of Delegates race so close that its outcome was determined by pulling the candidate's name out of a ceramic bowl Thursday.

Two narrow slips of paper — one bearing the name of a Democrat and the other the name of a Republican — were rolled up by Virginia election officials Thursday, inserted into film canisters and dropped into a cobalt-and-white stoneware bowl.

Dozens of officials, reporters and onlookers looked on silently as officials performed a bizarre lottery in Richmond to pick the winner of a closely contested House of Delegates district race — one that could upset Republicans' long-held majority and leave the chamber evenly split between the two parties.

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Sitting in the front row, Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds clasped her husband's and daughter's hands as officials reached into the bowl and plucked the canisters out, one by one.

"The winner of House District 94 is David Yancey," declared the chairman of the state election board, James Alcorn, smiling tightly after unfurling the first piece of paper.

Suddenly, Virginia officials had determined a victor in the long, drawn-out race, with the GOP narrowly maintaining its razor-thin majority in the House. After a recount, a court challenge and a 11,608-vote tie, Republican incumbent Yancey was certified as the winner in the tense ceremony watched by political observers across the nation.

But the battle for power may not be entirely over: According to state law, the candidate who loses a drawing can ask for a recount, which means the Republican incumbent may not be seated by Jan. 10, the first day of the 2018 General Assembly session.

After the drawing, Simonds exited the room quickly and without conceding. In a short statement, she said her supporters "will be the first to know of any next steps."

Yancey, who did not attend the event because of snowy weather, swiftly declared the race was now over.

"The election is behind us, the outcome is clear, and my responsibility now is to begin the work I was re-elected to do," he said in a statement issued by the Virginia's House GOP.

"Voting is the civic sacrament of democracy and this election has certainly shown the importance of every vote and the power of one, single vote," Alcorn said before drawing a name in the rare lottery live-streamed across the country.

RICHMOND, VA - JANUARY 04: Slips of paper with the names of Virginia House of Delegates candidates Shelly Simonds (D-VA) and David Yancy (R-VA) are shown during a meeting of the Virginia State Board of Elections January 4, 2018 in Richmond, Virginia. The slips of paper were later placed inside old film cannisters and drawn from a bowl to decide a tied race between the two candidates. Yancey's name was pulled from the bowl and Republicans retained control of the Virginia House of Delegates, though an additional recount in the race is still possible. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD **
RICHMOND, VA - JANUARY 04: Slips of paper with the names of Virginia House of Delegates candidates Shelly Simonds (D-VA) and David Yancy (R-VA) are shown during a meeting of the Virginia State Board of Elections January 4, 2018 in Richmond, Virginia. The slips of paper were later placed inside old film cannisters and drawn from a bowl to decide a tied race between the two candidates. Yancey's name was pulled from the bowl and Republicans retained control of the Virginia House of Delegates, though an additional recount in the race is still possible. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD ** (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

"What a way to run a democracy, huh?" said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "What's extraordinary in this case is that so much [more] was at stake than just one legislative seat. This determined, ultimately, the majority in the lower House of the General Assembly, the speakership, the committee chairs, the flow of legislation."

Rozell said he would not be surprised if Democrats asked for a recount or mounted a legal challenge over a disputed ballot.

"I don't think this is the end of it," he said. "The stakes are so big, and the Democrats feel quite strongly that this was not a good ballot and the judges were biased. I don't think they're going to let it go."

The fight over the 94th District seat has been particularly intense after Democrats flipped a string of Republican-controlled House seats throughout the state in the November election, slashing the GOP's 66-34 majority in the House to 51-49.

Democrats celebrated victory after a December recount in which Simonds appeared to defeat Yancey by a single vote. But Yancey's campaign contested Simonds' lead of 11,608 to 11,607, arguing that one ballot was improperly counted.

A panel of election judges then ruled that the questionable ballot should be counted in favor of Yancey and the tied race should be decided by a drawing.

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Last week, the drawing was delayed after Simonds filed paperwork asking the panel to reconsider its decision to call a tie in the race. The judges denied her request Wednesday, arguing that they did not find the previous ruling on the disputed ballot to be a clear error or unjust.

"The right of a citizen to cast a free vote has been secured to us by the blood of patriots shed from Lexington and Concord to Selma, Alabama," the judges wrote in a 11-page ruling. "The manifest injustice against which we must always guard is the chance that a single vote may not be counted."

On Wednesday, Simonds attempted to make a pact with Yancey, offering to accept the results of the random drawing, even if she loses, if Yancey committed to the same terms by 9 a.m. Thursday.

Such an agreement would have ensured that the winner would be seated when the 2018 legislative session begins.

"The people of the 94th District deserve to have representation on Jan. 10, and a second costly recount is not in their interest," Simonds said in a statement Wednesday. "I have no interest in delaying this process, and I hope Delegate Yancey and House Republicans agree."

Yancey declined to agree to her proposal, saying Democrats were to blame for postponing the drawing.

"I have always said I will follow the process laid out in state law," Yancey said in a statement. "I am not going to deny myself or the people of the 94th District due process simply because of the unnecessary delays that have got us to this point."

The 94th District seat is not the only Virginia House race still in dispute. Last month, Democrats requested a court-ordered special election in the 28th District race in the Fredericksburg area after more than 100 voters were given wrong ballots. Republican Bob Thomas beat Democrat Joshua Cole by just 73 votes.

A federal hearing in the 28th District case is scheduled for Friday.

Despite losing the drawing, Simonds said she considered herself lucky to have benefited from a strong family and career, as well as access to healthcare and education.

"Not everyone in this world, this country, and the 94th District is as lucky," she said in a statement. "There are nearly 400,000 Virginians who have been denied access to affordable healthcare through Medicaid expansion. I hope our lawmakers in the House of Delegates do not leave their fate to a game of chance."

Jarvie is a special correspondent.

UPDATES:

2:55 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from David Yancey, the Republican who won the race in the drawing and other details.

11:20 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Shelly Simonds, the Democrat who lost the race in the drawing.

9:45 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details, including comments from the chairman of the Virginia elections board.

This article was originally published at 7:55 a.m.

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