After over 20,000 ballots were cast, recounted and then re-examined in court, the outcome of a deadlocked election that would determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the Virginia House of Delegates came down Thursday to a couple of black canisters in a ceramic bowl.
Inside one canister was a strip of paper with Republican Delegate David Yancey’s name. In the other, the name of his Democratic challenger, Shelly Simonds. Mrs. Simonds sat nearby as James Alcorn, chairman of the state board of elections, dipped his hand into the bowl and drew out one canister.
“The winner of House District 94 is David Yancey,” said Mr. Alcorn, holding up the strip of paper with the Republican’s name.
Mrs. Simonds, who a day earlier called on both candidates to abide by the results of the drawing, said Thursday that she was reserving her right to demand a recount, leaving open the possibility that the drawing won’t be the final word.
Upholding the results would be a relief to Republicans, who went into November’s elections with a 66-34 majority in the House that evaporated in an anti-Trump surge.
“The past few weeks have been unprecedented, to say the least, but the process laid out in state law worked,” said Speaker-designee Kirk Cox, a Republican. “Now, it’s time to get to work.”
It was a heartbreaking loss for Democrats and Mrs. Simonds, who trailed Mr. Yancey by 10 votes coming out of Election Day and took a one-vote lead after requesting an initial recount.
The next day, however, a three-judge panel with the Newport News Circuit Court, which was tasked with certifying the results, decided that one of the ballots that was ruled invalid should not have been, leaving the race tied.
The ballot in question had a bubble filled in for each candidate. Mrs. Simonds’ bubble, though, also had a slash through it, which the panel ruled showed the voter did not want to support the Democrat.
Complicating matters further, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie’s bubble was filled in but also had an “x” over it. The ovals next to the rest of the Republican candidates were filled correctly.
The Simonds campaign challenged the ruling, and the state board of elections postponed the random drawing in order to give the court time to consider the motion.
The court this week rejected Mrs. Simonds’ request, setting the stage for the high-drama random drawing in Richmond on Thursday.
The drawing was held a day after President Trump announced he was dissolving a voter fraud commission and while concerns lingered about the final tallies in Virginia.
“Given Newport News’ record of discovering noncitizens after many have managed to vote, it’s an obvious concern,” said Logan Churchwell, of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which is dedicated to election integrity.
Under Virginia law, ties are settled by random drawing — though the last time it happened was 1971, and control of the chamber wasn’t on the line.
“There were a lot of people who were sort of critical of this sort of process, the idea of this tie-breaking drawing, but I think that is a little much because at the end of the day, how are you going to determine a winner in a tied election?” said Geoffrey Skelley, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Republicans have controlled the state House since the 1999 elections and the state Senate since just after the 1997 elections.
They maintain a 21-19 majority in the Senate but were clobbered in last year’s elections for the House and the state’s top three offices.
Mr. Yancey did not attend the drawing.
Forward Majority, a super PAC working to help Democrats regain their footing in state legislatures, blamed “partisan GOP judges” for interfering in an election that Mrs. Simonds had “rightfully won.”
“There’s no sugarcoating what just happened: This election was stolen from Shelly Simonds and rigged by Virginia Republicans dead set on undermining the recount process after they realized they lost this seat and with it their entire House majority,” said David Cohen, the group’s founder.
The three-judge panel in Newport News ruled that each candidate had received 11,608 votes.
In a letter to Mr. Yancey, Mrs. Simonds proposed they each respect the results of the drawing to avoid dragging out the race any further, but Mr. Yancey refused. On Thursday, Mrs. Simonds signaled that she intends to explore all her options — including another recount.
“I am tremendously grateful to my supporters,” Mrs. Simonds said in a statement. “They will be the first to know of any next steps.”
Mr. Yancey, meanwhile, celebrated the outcome.
“This race could not have been any closer, and when I return to the House of Delegates I want all residents of Newport News to know I am ready to serve as their delegate and look forward to hearing how I can improve the lives of all,” Mr. Yancey said.