That Insane Virginia Race Where A Democrat Beat A Republican By One Vote Is Actually Now A TIE
In a dramatic turn of events on Tuesday, the Democratic challenger in a Virginia House race defeated the Republican incumbent by a single vote. Today, in an even further dramatic turn of events, it was ruled a tie.
In a dramatic finish to a Virginia House race — or so we thought — it *appeared* that Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds defeated Republican incumbent David Yancey by a single vote.
BUT, it's still 2017, where nothing is ever what it seems.
And so on Wednesday, after Yancey challenged a ballot he said went uncounted, a three-judge panel ruled that the single ballot was in fact a vote for him — making the race a TIE.
Here's the ballot in question.
After the voter registrar's office certifies the result, state law dictates that "the electoral board shall proceed publicly to determine by lot which of the candidates shall be declared elected."
"This is the first time in the history of Virginia that an election has been changed in a recount," Philip Hatchett, the lawyer for Yancey's campaign, told reporters after the decision.
On Thursday, James Alcorn, the chairman of the Virginia State Board of Elections, announced that they will draw names to determine the winner of the race on Dec. 27. He added that there would be no coin flip.
Alcorn said that the procedure would follow the same one the board uses multiple times a year to determine the ballot order in which the board draws the names out of a glass bowl. During this process, same-sized pieces of paper printed with each candidate's name are placed in old film canisters which are put in a glass bowl and shaken thoroughly, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported. A board official then picks one of the canisters from the bowl, and reads out the winner's name.
In past local elections that have ended in a tie, Alcorn told the newspaper that the electoral board "typically draws names out of a hat."
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Alcorn for more information.
"While it appeared yesterday that Shelly Simonds was elected, it's obvious now that the result will remain unclear for a while longer," House Republican leaders said in a statement Wednesday.
But in a statement, the Virginia House Democratic Caucus called court’s decision "wrong," and said it was assessing "all legal options."
"Delegate-elect Shelly Simonds should have been certified the winner," the caucus said. "The Republicans themselves had affirmed that this result was accurate yesterday before changing their minds today. 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.’”
Here's how everything went down:
During the three-judge panel hearing to certify the recounted votes, a GOP election official submitted a letter asking the court to look into the single ballot that he claimed should have been counted for the Republican.
According to a Daily Press reporter present at the hearing, the election official claimed that a Democratic colleague on his team convinced him not to count a ballot — where both candidates' names were marked and where the voter had chosen Republican candidates in all the other races.
Virginia law states that if anyone in the election team sees a ballot that they cannot agree to and where the voter's intent is unclear, it is reserved for the three-judge panel to rule, according to Hatchett.
He said that the GOP election official was "concerned last night" and immediately believed that one ballot was "contentious" and should have been turned over to the court.
In such cases, the election team is not to make a decision on whether to count the ballot, but leave it instead for the judges to rule on, Hatchett said.
In the "contentious" ballot — obtained by the Virginia Pilot — the voter had filled in the bubbles for both Simonds and Yancey, but had also added a strike through Simonds' bubble.
In his letter to the court, the election official said he did not contest the ballot at the time because he was "new and confused" — but added that he felt he had not made the right decision.
Yancey's campaign manager, who was an observer, backed up the GOP election official's claims in the letter, according to the Daily Press reporter.
The Republican Caucus spokesman, Matthew Moran, also confirmed on Twitter that the campaign believed that the ballot in question should have counted for Yancey.
A lawyer for the Democrats had argued that it was too late to consider the recount official's letter and that the recount process was already over.
The judges however, "could see the intent of the voter" and ruled that the ballot should be counted for Yancey, Hatchett said.
Had the judges not counted the single ballot for Yancey, a victory for Simmonds could have been a final blow for Republicans in Virginia, who lost 15 House seats in last month's election — a rout that many observers saw as a tacit rejection of President Trump's policies.
"I want to thank the voters who came out on Nov. 7," Simonds said in a statement after Tuesday's recount. "What a difference this is from 2015 when I ran before. Everyone came out and we rocked this town."
Recalling the moment the math was done, Simonds told CNN hours before the hearing on Wednesday that her campaign took a one more breath to make sure.
"I had to take a deep breath," she said. "We had to pause, just to make sure the registrar did the math four times. But then we started celebrating."
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Simonds and Yancey for further comment on the results.
The recount for House District 94 was closely watched on Tuesday, with Yancey starting 10 votes ahead after the election on Nov. 6.
During the recount, each ballot was fed into a machine. If the machine couldn't read the vote, then it would spit it out and an individual would examine the ballot to see if it carried a valid vote.
As each precinct was counted, the tally was updated on a whiteboard, with an election official marking "no change" or the number of votes each candidate gained.
As the votes were counted, Simonds and Yancey remained almost even, with the race coming down to the final precinct.
After about five hours of suspense, the final tally was announced: 11,608 to 11,607.
While the result was yet to be certified by the panel of judges on Wednesday, both Democrats and Republican leaders in the House of Delegates congratulated Simonds on the victory.
"We stand ready to establish a bipartisan framework under which the House can operate efficiently and effectively over the next two years," Virginia House Republicans said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
Offering his own congratulations, Virginia House Democratic Leader David Toscano said in a statement that the party is "excited to stand alongside Shelly as she works to represent the 94th District."
Toscano also tweeted about the historical significance of the win.
Virginia's new Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, tweeted his congratulations to Simonds, noting — as many Virginia Democrats did Tuesday — that the race showed "every vote matters."
"I think everybody has a little bit of ownership in the outcome of this election now," Simonds told CNN on Tuesday. "Everybody feels like they were the one vote that put us over the edge."