Every Vote Counts: VA House Of Delegates Now Split 50-50; UPDATE: GOP Candidate Gets Another Ballot, Race Remains Tied

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Dec 20, 2017 1:35 PM
Every Vote Counts: VA House Of Delegates Now Split 50-50; UPDATE: GOP Candidate Gets Another Ballot, Race Remains Tied

UPDATE: Actually, let’s hold off a bit on because a three-judge panel refused to certify the results. A suspect ballot was seen as one in which the intent was to vote for Republican Delegate David Yancey. That means both Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simmonds have 11,608 votes each. Virginia state law says this race will be decided by a coin toss, in which the loser also has the option to ask for a second recount (via WaPo):

A three- judge panel declined to certify the recount of a key House race today, saying that a questionable ballot should be counted in favor of the Republican and tying a race that Democrats had thought they had won by a single vote.

“The court declares there is no winner in this election,” said Newport News Circuit Court Judge Bryant L. Sugg, after the judges deliberated for more than two hours.

He said the ballot in question, which was deemed unacceptable during the five-hour recount on Tuesday, contained a mark for Democrat Shelly Simonds as well as a mark for Republican Del. David Yancey but that the mark for Simonds had also been struck out.

[…]

The court’s decision leaves the race for the 94th District tied at 11,608 votes each for Yancey and Simonds.

And it leaves the balance of power in the state legislature at 49-51, in favor of Republicans - at least for now.

In the case of a tie in a House race, state law says the winner is chosen by lot – essentially, a coin toss, according to Virginia state law. The state board of elections will conduct that “selection by lot”, within the next week.

But it doesn’t end there. If the loser of the coin toss is unhappy with that result, he or she can seek a second recount.

Every vote counts.

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Folks, I know it goes without saying, but your vote counts. No, seriously, it does because in Virginia—the Democrats have wiped out the Republican majority, after a Democrat won a nail-biting recount by one vote. In the 94th District, Republican David Yancey fell to Democrat Shelley Simonds 11,608 to 11,607 votes (via Richmond Times-Dispatch):

Democrats claimed a one-vote victory Tuesday after a recount in a contested Newport News-area House of Delegates race, a stunning result that would create a 50-50 party split in the House.

Republicans went into last month's election with a 66-34 majority, but a single voter in the 94th District may have given Democrats the 16th seat they needed to fully erase the GOP majority and potentially usher in a power-sharing agreement.

The lower chamber is now split 50-50, with two more recounts to go. Democrat Dawn Adams leads Republican Delegate G. Manoli Loupassi by 336 votes in the 68th District; that recount begins today, December 20. On December 21, the 28th District’s recount begins between Republican Delegate Bob Thomas and Democrat Joshua Cole; Thomas leads by only 82 votes. The Washington Post had a good rundown on the recounts and the controversy surrounding the 28th District, adding that the lawfare over these races probably won’t be settled after the votes have been re-tabulated:

Virginia voters fill out paper ballots, which are fed into electronic scanners and tallied by those machines.  The ballots, which are secured in the office of the local elections clerk, are transported by sheriff’s deputies to the local courthouse (or another government building) for the recount.

There, the ballots are scanned once again by machines that have been tested in advance. Ballots that could not be read are hand-counted by two local election officials, who can be monitored by one observer from each party.  Any members of the public and media can be present in the room, but they must be away from the tables where the actual recounts are conducted.

While improper tallies and ballots lost in machine jams could also be uncovered, veterans of recounts say ballots that were improperly completed tend to be the biggest source of missed votes.

“I would expect vote totals to change, not dramatically, but they will definitely change on both sides,” said Brian Schoeneman, a Republican and former secretary of the Fairfax County’s electoral board during two recounts. “The district with the 10 votes is the one everyone should be paying attention to because it has the most chance of flipping.”

[…]

The battle for the House of Delegates likely won’t be over even after the recounts.

A federal judge has set a Jan. 5 hearing for the case where Democrats are seeking a new election in District 28 over the issue of more than 100 voters who were given ballots to vote in the wrong district. Losing candidates also have an opportunity to contest the election results with the state legislature, a rarely-used and murky process.

Republicans and Democrats alike aren’t sure how things would unfold with contested elections reaching the General Assembly. Lawmakers last recall such an instance in 1979 when a losing Republican Senate candidate got nowhere with a Democratic-controlled state Senate.

The Post added that there is no procedure for tie breaking in the House of Delegates; bills that fail to get 51 votes are subjected to legislative death. Everything is negotiated from who chairs what committee to the speaker of the chamber.