- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Virginia State Board of Elections on Tuesday delayed plans to hold a random drawing to decide the winner of the race in House District 94 and whether the Virginia Republican Party’s 17 years of control of the state House of Delegates comes to an end.

The announcement was made after Democrat Shelly Simonds filed a motion asking a three-judge panel to reconsider their decision that her race against Republican Delegate David Yancey finished in a dead heat — meaning the fate of the final seat in the November elections would be decided by drawing lots between the two candidates.

Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortes confirmed the drawing had been postponed in an email to The Associated Press.

The decision is the latest twist in a political drama that has unfolded in the wake of the Democratic “tsunami” in the November elections in which Republicans entered the campaign cycle with a near veto-proof 66-34 majority in the House and emerged with, at best, a 51-49 lead.

Depending on the outcome of the race, the Virginia House could be split 50-50, and Republicans will have lost their bulwark against an increasingly Democratic-leaning state.

“Whether they get lucky or not in the … drawing, there is no positive spin on what has happened to the party this year,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government.

Mr. Yancey had a 10-vote lead after the election. But after a recount of the 23,000 ballots, Mrs. Simonds emerged as the apparent winner by a single vote. A state court then ruled that the counters had wrongly credited a ballot to her. Subtracting that vote left the two candidates tied with 11,608 votes each.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Simonds’ attorneys filed their motion in Newport News and sent a letter to the Virginia Board of Elections urging to delay Wednesday’s drawing in order to give the court time to consider their motion.

Mrs. Simonds’ legal team said there is no hurry for the board to conduct the tie-breaker, given that members of the House are to be seated on Jan. 10.

“A decision by the three-judge recount panel to suspend its order and reconsider its determination that the recount between Mrs. Simonds and David Yancey ended in a tie could moot the need for the Board to hold the drawing at all,” they said in their request.

Before the news broke, a random drawing had been planned Wednesday at the Patrick Henry state office building in Richmond.

James Alcorn, chairman of the State Board of Elections, said the candidates’ names were set to be printed on separate strips of paper and inserted into film canisters that will then be sealed.

“Those canisters are placed in a bowl and stirred. We will draw a canister, remove the strip of paper, read it aloud and show it to the public,” Mr. Alcorn said. “This first canister will be the winner of HD94. We will then do the same thing with the second canister to show that both names were equally available in the bowl.”

“I have asked the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the state library and the Department of Historical Resources for their assistance in an appropriate container for the drawing,” he said.

Still, the drawing might not have ended the affair because the loser would have been able to demand a second recount.

The hotly contested race comes during a changing of the guard for Republicans. William J. Howell of Stafford County, who has served as House speaker since 2003, opted not to seek re-election. He had hoped that Kirkland Cox would succeed him.

On the Democratic side, Kenneth Plum of Fairfax County, the chamber’s longest-serving member, and House Minority Leader David Toscano of Charlottesville are eying bids for House speaker.

If Democrats emerge victorious, it would create a 50-50 split in the lower chamber and require a power-sharing agreement that would end the Republican reign, which dates back to the 1999 elections.

It’s a major shift for the state, which was reliably Republican in the past decade. Republicans held both U.S. Senate seats, dominated the congressional delegation, had control of the state Senate and House, and traded the governorship back and forth with Democrats. It also maintained one of the country’s longest streaks of voting Republican in presidential elections.

November’s elections gave Republicans control of the state Senate by a single vote, but the party has lost the past three presidential races and doesn’t hold either U.S. Senate seat.

Voters also elected Democrats to all three top offices in November: Ralph Northam became the fourth Democrat to win the governor’s mansion in the past five gubernatorial races, while Mark Herring and Justin Fairfax were elected attorney general and lieutenant governor, respectively.

Chris Saxman, who served as a Republican in the House of Delegates from 2002 to 2010, said the situation should serve as a wake-up call for Republican lawmakers, who were caught off guard and perhaps got too comfortable in the majority.

“Predicated by the earthquake of 2016, 2017 was more of tsunami than a wave,” Mr. Saxman said. “You had Republicans telling me they were up 10 to 15 points, and they were campaigning like that.”

“There is a lesson to be learned about letting the foot off the gas,” he said.

But Mr. Saxman also said Democrats should be careful about what they wish for: They now likely will be forced to take votes on bills that they used to count on Republicans killing and also will likely have to weigh in on proposals from their left flank that could be used to cast the entire party in a negative light.

As for the drawing, Mr. Saxman joked that people have been praying: “Let’s just say there are a lot of people discovering [that] foxhole Christianity actually exists.”

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