By BEN FINLEY and ALAN SUDERMAN
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) – As election officials set about to break a tie in one Virginia House race and recount the votes in two others, it’s far from clear yet whether Republicans or Democrats will have control of the chamber next year.
Elections officials are expected to draw names at random to settle a declared tie in the 94th District in Newport News. The 68th and 28th districts are seeing recounts.
A three-judge panel certified the 94th District as tied at 11,608 to 11,608 on Wednesday, a day after a recount appeared to give Democrat Shelly Simonds the victory over Republican Del. David Yancey. Simonds had initially appeared to lose November’s election by 10 votes.
Citing state election law, Virginia Board of Elections Chairman James Alcorn said the board would have to pick a winner at random, likely picking a name from a bowl.
But the Virginia House Democratic Caucus called the court’s decision “wrong” and said in a statement, “We are currently assessing all legal options before us as we fight for a just result.”
Yancey’s attorneys successfully argued Wednesday that an uncounted ballot should have been included in his total. They cited concerns raised by a GOP election official who participated in Tuesday’s recount.
The official wrote in a letter submitted to the court that he was “confused” about election board guidelines when he agreed to leave the vote uncounted.
On the ballot in question, the voter had picked Republican candidates in statewide races. For the 94th District, the voter filled in the bubble for Yancey and the bubble for Simonds. But he or she also drew a single slash through the bubble for Simonds.
Ezra Reese, an attorney for Simonds, argued that under the guidelines, the ballot should remain uncounted because it contained more than one type of extra marking.
Trevor Stanley, a lawyer for Yancey, argued that the slash in Simonds’ bubble clearly meant that the voter was picking Yancey.
The judges ruled in Yancey’s favor after two hours of deliberation. They also denied a request by Simonds’ attorneys to review a ballot from another precinct.
If Yancey wins, Republicans will hold on to power in the House by one seat, 51-49.
If Simonds wins, a rare power-sharing agreement would have to be brokered between Democrats and Republicans. But if no agreement can be reached, prolonged chaos could ensue.
Democrats rode a tidal wave powered by unhappiness with GOP President Donald Trump in last month’s elections to erase Republicans’ 66-34 advantage.
Tuesday’s recount was one of four scheduled for House races with extremely tight margins. The 94th District had by far the slimmest vote difference and the biggest chance of flipping.
Last week, Republican Del. Tim Hugo survived a recount in Fairfax County.
Meanwhile, the Democratic challenger leads by 336 votes in the 68th House District in and around Richmond, where ballot counting began Wednesday.
Ballots will be recounted Thursday in the Fredericksburg area’s 28th District. The Republican candidate there leads by 82 votes. But Democrats already have asked a judge to call for a new election after at least 147 ballots were found to be assigned to the wrong districts.
Suderman reported from Richmond, Virginia.
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