Virginia state Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) prevailed in the first of four scheduled election recounts that will determine which party holds power in the House of Delegates, leaving Democrats to stake their hopes on the remaining races, whose outcomes will be determined next week.
After Democrat Donte Tanner gained a net of seven votes, Hugo's lead dropped to 99 votes at the end of a two-day recount inside Fairfax County's Circuit Court that, despite the high stakes, went smoothly.
A Democratic sweep in November left Republicans with a 51-49 majority in the House, infusing extra tension into the mostly tedious process of recounting the elections that were too close to call.
Roughly 30,000 ballots from both Fairfax and Prince William counties were recounted in the 40th District race. In the end, the results showed Tanner gaining a total of 14 votes and Hugo gaining seven.
"As I said during the campaign, win or lose, we want to make sure that every lawful vote is counted and this process has ensured just that," Hugo, chair of the House Republican caucus, said in a statement.
Tanner said he accepted the results and praised election workers for a thorough job.
"It was a fair race; it was a hard-fought race," he said. "I'm glad we got to go through this experience."
The outcome leaves two more opportunities for Democrats to tip the House in their favor, and a somewhat long-shot chance for Republicans to pick up another seat.
A recount for the closest election, in the Newport News area, is scheduled for Tuesday. There, Del. David Yancey (R) holds a 10-vote advantage over Democrat Shelly Simonds in the 94th District.
Later next week, recounts will be held in the 28th District, where Republican Bob Thomas leads Democrat Joshua Cole by 82 votes; and in the Richmond area's 68th District, where Democrat Dawn Adams leads Del. G. Manoli Loupassi by 336 votes.
House Minority Leader Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said the closer margins in the 94th and 28th districts make it more likely Democrats will prevail.
"We have two more shots," Toscano said, noting Democrats have also asked a federal judge to order a new election in the 28th District because of errors that led 147 voters to cast ballots in the wrong race.
Toscano called the Republican-driven recount in Loupassi's 68th District race "a real stretch" because of the large vote margin held by Adams.
M. Kirkland Cox (Colonial Heights), who will be House speaker should Republicans maintain control, said the party is preparing for the next legislative session as if that will be the case.
Thursday's result "confirmed what we have known since November," Cox said in a statement.
With partisan fervor high in Richmond, the Fairfax recount was an exercise in civility.
Roughly 40 poll workers sat side-by-side inside two courthouse jury rooms, sorting through stacks of ballots and looking for any signs of mistakes while observers from each party hovered nearby to monitor the process.
Others fed the ballots that appeared to be problem-free into scanning machines.
When the last ballot was scanned, several election workers and observers applauded.
As they prepared to leave the courthouse, a few cheerfully predicted more recounts ahead in the years to come as some districts in Northern Virginia become increasingly purple.
"See you next time!" one election worker called out to Stephen M. Hunt, a member of the Fairfax electoral board.