A court declared a tie in a Virginia House election that one day earlier appeared to have gone to a Democrat by a single vote.
A three-judge panel certified the 94th District in Newport News as tied at 11,608 to 11,608 on Wednesday, a day after a dramatic recount appeared to give Democrat Shelly Simonds the victory over Del. David Yancey.
Yancey successfully challenged an uncounted ballot he said should have been included in his total. A GOP election official who participated in the recount wrote in a letter to a three-judge panel Wednesday that although he signed off on the ballot, which was not counted Tuesday, he was confused at the time. He wrote the ballot had both candidates' names bubbled in for the 94th District race. He said the voter had chosen Republican candidates in every other race.
Attorneys for Democrat Shelly Simonds said the ballot should not be reconsidered.
"Last night after the recount was completed, our team became aware of a question surrounding an uncounted ballot. During the recount, election officials were presented with an overvote," Virginia GOP leadership said in a statement. "One Republican official, and a recount observer, believed at the time the ballot was a clear vote for Delegate David Yancey. However, a Democratic official persuaded the Republican official to not count the ballot. This morning, the Republican official wrote a letter to the recount court explaining that he made the wrong decision yesterday, and that he believes the ballot should count for Delegate Yancey."
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.
After the State Board of Elections determines a winner by drawing lots, the loser can request another recount, the GOP statement said.
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.
Prior to the November elections, the Republicans held a 66-34 majority in the House. In the Virginia Senate, the GOP holds a slim lead, 21-19.
Last week, Republican Del. Tim Hugo held onto his seat in Fairfax County after a recount had a marginal impact on his 100-plus vote lead. Two more recounts are set to take place on Wednesday and Thursday for districts in and around Richmond and in the Fredericksburg area.
If Democrats and Republicans ultimately find themselves evenly split, a messy dynamic could unfold. The parties may have to compromise just to elect a speaker and assign committee chairmanships.
The last time Virginia's House was evenly divided was 20 years ago, when the parties reached a power-sharing agreement. But if no agreement can be reached, prolonged chaos could ensue.