RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — A three-judge state court panel on Wednesday declined to certify the recount of a key Virginia House race, concluding a questionable ballot should be counted in favor of the Republican and tying a race that Democrats had thought they won by a single vote.
The panel, sitting in Newport News, Virginia, declared the race for Virginia’s 94th House District tied 11,608 to 11,608, — 24 hours after a dramatic recount appeared to give Democrat Shelly Simonds the victory over three-term Del. David Yancey.
Yancey successfully challenged an uncounted ballot he said should have been included in his total.
“The court declares there is no winner in this election,” said Newport News Circuit Court Judge Bryant Sugg, after the judges deliberated for more than two hours.
He said the ballot in question, which was deemed unacceptable during the five-hour recount on Tuesday, contained a mark for Democrat Shelly Simonds as well as a mark for Republican Del. David Yancey but that the mark for Simonds had also been struck out.
By state law, the winner of the tie will be determined “by lot.” It was not immediately clear how or when that will take place.
The outcome likely deciding partisan control of the House of Delegates. If Yancey wins, Republicans will hold on to power by one seat, 51-49. If Simonds wins, a rare power-sharing agreement would have to be brokered between Democrats and Republicans.
But it doesn’t end there. If the loser of the coin toss is unhappy with that result, he or she can seek a second recount.
As he was leaving the courthouse, Yancey said “the ruling today makes certain every vote in this historic election was counted.”
As the recount got under way on Tuesday Simonds trailed Yancey by 10 votes. After the recount appeared to show she was the victor by a single vote, she said, “I’m just so thrilled that things broke our way.”
Simonds said she saw the evenly divided House as a rare chance to get progressive issues out of committee and onto the floor for debate.
“It’s good for our democracy to get some of these movements out from under the thumb of subcommittees and on the floor for a vote,” she said. “It’s good for all citizens of Virginia.”
Virginia has drifted farther toward the political center as workers in the District of Columbia have moved to Northern Virginia in search of housing.
Recounts in other Virginia races are continuing but none are expected to flip seats; none were as close as the race in District 94.
The most likely seat that may be affected by a recount is District 28, also in Northern Virginia, where 147 voters were given the wrong ballot and Republican Bob Thomas won by 82 votes over Democrat Joshua Cole. To take the seat, Cole will have to take 107 of the 141 ballots still up for grabs.
“I’m remaining optimistic and hopeful that I’ll be able to join you guys,” Cole said.
“It’s critical for democracy that we don’t disenfranchise voters, especially with such a close margin of votes. We want to ensure every vote counts.”
Democratic party leader David Toscano promised to work with Republicans to get legislation to newly elected Democratic Governor Ralph Northam’s desk.
“[House Republicans] have indicated they are willing to work with us to develop a power sharing arrangement and move the commonwealth forward,” Toscano said.
Though he emphasized the need for compromise, he too said it would be good to get more progressive issues out of committee and onto the floor.
“We want health security, expansion of Medicaid, emphasis on renewable energy, make the economy inclusive for people of color, the LGBTQ community and immigrants. Hopefully we’ll sit down with our Republican colleagues for a path to see how we can operate in the best path in the interest in the commonwealth,” Toscano.
Democrats hailed the squeaker as another indication that the country is turning away from the right-wing politics of President Trump.
In Virginia, the negotiations may not be easy — but they will be necessary. Leadership of committees and the selection of a Speaker of the House will be up for grabs.
Democrats in November won every statewide seat — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Republicans still control the Virginia Senate by 21-19, and have the power to kill any bill that comes before them.
The Virginia General Assembly session begins in January.