A wild recount in a razor-thin Virginia House of Delegates contest that has ended in a tie will be decided when the state board of elections draws a name from a bowl next Wednesday, apparently leaving the future of Virginia politics to chance.
Virginians may be experiencing whiplash over the changing fortunes in the race to fill the 94th District seat in the House of Delegates. Republican incumbent Del. David Yancey emerged from Election Day the presumptive winner, with 10 more votes than Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds. After a recount on Tuesday, Simonds caught up to Yancey and edged past him by a one-single vote and declared victory.
Yet the plot thickened Wednesday, when a three-judge court that was supposed to certify the recount accepted a last-minute challenge from Republicans, who argued a questionable ballot that had been set aside during the recount should be tallied in Yancey’s favor. The judges declared a tie between Simonds and Yancey, with 11,608 votes each and no winner.
Stakes are especially high because Republicans would lose their 50-49 majority in the chamber- for the first time in 17 years — if Simonds prevails. If she wins, it would force Democrats and Republicans to negotiate a rare power-sharing arrangement.
James Alcorn, chair of the state board of elections, said the tie will be broken Dec. 27 by inserting names on slips of paper into film canisters and then drawing a canister from a glass bowl. Virginia state law calls this random selection “determination by lot.”
That will not be the end; the loser can seek a second recount.
The last time a tie was settled in this manner in Virginia was in 1971, when a delegate’s race was resolved by a blindfolded state elections official pulling a name from a large ornamental cup, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Readers and social media commenters seemed shocked a democratic election could be decided by a game of chance. This wouldn’t be the first time.
Tied elections are determined by chance in 35 states, according to a review by The Washington Post in 2014. Others have government officials decide the winner or hold a new election.
In Idaho, a tied small town city council race this year was decided by a coin toss before a recount discovered a missing ballot. In 2011, a tied city council race in Nevada was resolved by who drew the highest card (a king bested a five). Back in 1990, a tied primary for county attorney in Montana resolved by picking a quarter with the higher date from a can — and the loser’s brother later confessed he didn’t vote.
Some readers offered joking (we think?) alternatives for choosing a winner.
We want to hear your suggestions for how to handle a tied election. Leave them in the comments section, and we’ll highlight some later this afternoon.
Read more about the recounts: