Saturday, July 20, 2024

Two recent Williamsburg elections were decided by drawing names from a hat

Electoral Board Chairman H. Thomas Hamilton, Vice Chairman Leonard Graves and Secretary Carol Rendleman draw names from a hat to determine the 1986 City Council race. (Courtesy Winifred Sowder)

All eyes may be on the tied state House race in Newport News this week, but the City of Williamsburg has seen two recent elections come down to pulling a name from a hat.

Democrat Shelly Simonds and incumbent Republican Del. David Yancey are currently tied at 11,608 votes in the race for 94th House of Delegates seat— and the election will be determined by drawing lots, according to state law.

Williamsburg has determined two elections by drawing lots in recent memory, according to Voter Registrar Winifred Sowder.

The first happened in 1986, in a City Council race between Mayor Bob Walker and Vice Mayor Mary Lee Darling. Walker and Darling were both up for reelection and they tied in the popular vote; to settle on the winner, officials drew names from a tri-corner hat, Sowder said.

“In Williamsburg, the councilmen are elected at large, and decide among themselves who will be mayor and vice mayor,” Sowder said.

Fortune favored Darling that day, and she emerged from the drawing victorious. Mayor Walker was not reelected.

Fast forward to 2007, when an election for the Colonial Soil and Water Conservation District Board was also determined by lot. In this instance, however, no one actually ran for the seat.

Instead, the popular vote came down to write-in votes— and a national celebrity garnered the most votes.

“The one that actually won was Stephen Colbert,” Sowder said with a laugh.

However, Colbert wasn’t eligible for office in Williamsburg, since he wasn’t a city resident.

Two William & Mary students, Matt Beato and Benjamin Strahs, tied for second place — with less than a handful of write-in votes apiece.

Beato’s name was drawn from a hat, and he took public office with a mandate in the single digits.

“It was kind of crazy, and it was happenstance,” Beato said. “I didn’t run for it, or campaign or want it. Three people just happened to vote for me…It’s kind of weird to get an office you didn’t run for.”

Beato added he held the office for about a year before resigning.

“Luckily, this doesn’t happen all that often,” Sowder said.

For more on Virginia election law, go here.

Steve Roberts, Jr. contributed reporting.

This story was updated to include quotes from Matt Beato.

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