A Single Vote Wins an Election and Shifts Control of VA House - Maybe

Posted by Dale Eisman on December 20, 2017

UPDATED: 2:40 P.M. 12/20

The next time someone tells you that your vote is meaningless, so why bother casting it, ask if they’ve ever heard of Shelly Simonds and David Yancey.

Simonds, a Democrat in Newport News, VA, apparently won a seat on Tuesday in the state House of Delegates by a single vote; a recount of the Nov. 8 balloting gave her 11,608 votes to 11,607 for Yancey, the Republican incumbent.

But on Wednesday afternoon, barely 24 hours after her "victory," Simonds lost the election again and Yancey gained new life - the race is now a tie that may end up being decided by random drawing or the flip of a coin.

Virginia news outlets report that a three-judge panel has decided that a vote originally counted for Yancey but thrown out during the recount on Tuesday was properly counted in the first place. Restoring it put Yancey and Simonds in a dead heat. The confusion arose because the voter filled in the space next to the name of each candidate, seeming to vote for both, then drew a line through Simonds name.

Partisan control of the Virginia House is riding on the outcome.  With Simonds apparent victory on Tuesday, Democrats gained a 50-50 split in the 100-member House, which would end 17 years of Republican control. If Yancey ultimately prevails after all, Republicans will have a 51-49 edge.

A Democratic wave swept across Virginia this year. The state has been trending toward Democrats for some time; they’ve won the last nine statewide election contests. But Republican majorities in the legislature have allowed GOP lawmakers to gerrymander state House and Senate districts to keep their party in control. Before this year’s election, Republicans had a 66-34 advantage in the House.

While the House may be evenly split when it convenes next month, Republican candidates for the House across the state were outpolled by Democrats by more than 122,000 votes on Election Day.

This is not the first time that a single vote has decided a contest for a Virginia House seat. In 1991, James M. Scott, a Democrat from the Washington, D.C. suburbs, gained a one-vote win; he went on to serve for 11 terms.


Office: Common Cause National, Common Cause Virginia

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Redistricting, Registration and Voting Systems

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