Republican wins drawing in Virginia to decide political majority of House

After a too-close-to-call race, Virginia's state elections board blindly picked David Yancey as the winner of the 94th District on Thursday. The win gives Republicans a slim 51-49 majority over Democrats in the House. 

Jonathon Gruenke/The Daily Press/AP/File
Republican incumbent state Del. David Yancey walks with campaign manager Gretchen Heal outside the Newport News Courthouse in Newport News, Va. on Dec. 20, 2017.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the results of the drawing.]

When there was no clear winner in Virginia's hotly contested race for a House seat despite a general election, a recount, and a legal battle election officials turned to a ceramic bowl.

But even that may not be enough. Although a drawing of names Thursday morning determined Del. David Yancey as the winner of the 94th District, the loser could push for a second recount or ask the House to step in and pick a winner.

Republican incumbent Mr. Yancey had indicated that he could take such a step if he had lost, refusing a proposal from opponent Democrat Shelly Simonds on Wednesday that both sides accept the name drawing as final.

Yancey said he was "not going to deny myself or the people of the 94th district due process." A delay on settling the winner could allow Republicans to start the 2018 legislative session next week at a 50-49 majority, which would let them pick a speaker and set committee assignments.

At a meeting on Capitol Square, the state elections board printed the name of each candidate on a piece of paper, placed each paper into a separate film canister, and placed the canisters into a cobalt-blue-and-white ceramic bowl made by a local artist. The winner was picked in a blind draw.

The drawing is the latest dramatic twist in a November election that saw Democrats wipe out a 66-34 advantage held by Republicans in the House. If Ms. Simonds had won, the partisan split would have been 50-50. With Yancey's win, Republicans now have a 51-49 majority.

Adding another wrinkle: The Newport News seat is not the only contested House race. Democrats have filed a legal challenge in a close Fredericksburg-area race in which several voters were given the wrong ballots. A hearing in that case is set for Friday.

Partisans on both sides have different opinions of what state law allows in terms of another recount. After Yancey rejected her proposal to accept the drawing results as final, Simonds said she wouldn't rule out asking for one herself.

"I'm not prepared to give up," she said. "All options are on the table as far as I'm concerned."

Simonds appeared to have lost on Election Day by 10 votes, but on Dec. 19, she won a recount by a single vote. The next day, a three-judge panel in Newport News declared a tie based on a previously uncounted vote for Yancey. Simonds asked the judges to reconsider, but on Wednesday the panel denied her request in strident terms, saying "the right of a citizen to cast a free vote has been secured to us by the blood of patriots."

"The manifest injustice against which we must always guard is the chance that a single vote may not be counted," the judges wrote.

At the heart of the dispute in the race for a seat in the oldest legislative body in the country is a single ballot on which the voter filled in the bubble for both Simonds and Yancey. The voter also drew a single slash through the bubble for Simonds and picked Republican candidates in statewide races.

The ballot wasn't counted during the recount and was identified after a Republican election official raised concerns the following day.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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