Tuesday, July 5, 2022

UPDATE: State house race could be decided by drawing names, after panel rules it a tie

Updated at 7:27 a.m.

A three-judge panel in Newport News declared a state house race a tie Wednesday, one day after the city’s board of elections declared the Democratic challenger a winner by one vote, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The decision casts further uncertainty on the balance of power in the Virginia House of Delegates, which had been slated for a 50-50 tie if Democrat Shelly Simonds, the challenger in the 94th district in Newport News, had defeated Republican Del. David Yancey. 

“Today’s decision by the court was wrong, and Delegate-elect Shelly Simonds should have been certified the winner,” the House Democratic Caucus said in a statement released by a spokesperson Wednesday. “We are currently assessing all legal options before us as we fight for a just result.”

Neither Yancey nor Simonds responded to requests for comment before publication.

The state Republican party released a statement of its own, supporting Yancey.

“Our entire team has done everything possible to ensure that every single vote has been counted,” Chairman John Whitbeck said in a release. “Delegate Yancey is a fighter. So is every other Virginia Republican. Game on.”

On Tuesday, the Newport News Board of Elections announced after a recount that Simonds had won by a single vote.

But on Wednesday, the Post reported, a three-judge panel in Newport News Circuit Court refused to certify the recount and declared the election a tie.

At issue, the Post said, was one ballot that election officials had discarded during the recount; the ballot had a mark for Simonds, a mark for Yancey and another mark striking Simonds’ name.

After Republicans challenged that decision in court, the panel ruled that the ballot should be counted as one for Yancey.

Yancey and Simonds each have 11,608 votes now, the Post said, and in the event of a tie, the winner is selected by lot under state law, which means, in essence a coin toss.

According to the Post, State Board of Elections Chairman James Alcorn said the winner will likely be determined by putting pieces of paper, with names written on them, into two film canisters; the canisters will be drawn from a glass bowl — or his bowler hat. Alcorn is consulting with staff to finalize the process and the date, the Post said.

The loser of the coin toss can seek a second recount, the Post said.

A Republican press official offered additional perspective, saying the state board of elections could choose a method of chance, such as picking names out of a hat, to determine the winner. 

“This is not a common or everyday occurrence,” said Jeff Ryer, a spokesperson for Virginia Senate Republicans and a former member of the James City County Electoral Board.

Simonds had filed for the recount in Newport News Circuit Court on Nov. 29, according to her Facebook page.

York County General Registrar Walt Latham, James City County General Registrar Dianna Moorman and the Newport News General Registrar’s Office were not immediately available for comment before publication. 

Del. Mike Mullin and an aide to Sen. Monty Mason also did not respond to requests for comment.

And the office of Del. Kirk Cox, the Republican majority leader, did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Democratic caucus, however, did not mince words.

“The Republicans themselves had affirmed that this result was accurate yesterday before changing their minds today,” they said in the release. “After conceding this seat and their majority, they are now desperately trying to claw both back ‘like a snarling dog that won’t let go of a bone.’”

Steve Roberts contributed reporting. This story has been updated to include reaction from the Virginia Republican Party, to include additional information about how the winner will be chosen and clarify that the state board of elections could pick a method of chance, such as drawing names from a hat, to determine the winner. WYDaily will continue to update the story as additional information becomes available.

Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley is a former Miami Herald business reporter, a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and an attorney. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, TIME.com, nationalgeographic.com and Talking Points Memo. Her recent book, Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital, was shortlisted for the 2017 Mark Lynton History Prize. Her first book, The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy, won the 2005 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

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