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Court Takes Away Democrat's One-Vote Victory in Va. House

Shelly Simonds
Shelly Simonds

Democrat Shelly Simonds won a House of Delegates seat by one vote in a recount Tuesday, tying her party with Republicans for control of the chamber, but a court ruled one ballot invalid today.


UPDATE: A three-judge panel Wednesday threw out a ballot the Republican Party had challenged, saying the voter had chosen Republicans in every race but that of Simonds and Yancey. The decision makes the race a tie, and the winner "will be determined by lot -- leaving the fate of the chamber to what is essentially a coin toss," The Washington Post reports. "James Alcorn, chairman of the State Board of Elections, said the winner will likely be chosen by placing names on slips of papers into two film canisters and then drawing the canisters from a glass bowl (or his bowler hat). He said he is conferring with staff to figure out the date and method." The loser can still seek another recount.

PREVIOUS STORY: Thanks to a Democrat's victory by one vote in a recount, the Virginia House of Delegates will be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans when it reconvenes in January, ending 17 years of Republican control.

A five-hour recount Tuesday brought Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds of Newport News a victory over incumbent Republican David Yancey in the state's 94th District by a vote of 11,608 to 11,607, The Washington Post reports. Yancey had led by 10 votes going into the recount.

This means the House will be split 50-50 between the two parties, and there is no procedure for breaking ties, so any legislation that does not get 51 votes will go nowhere, according to the Post. Republicans still have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, where the lieutenant governor can break ties. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, will be the new lieutenant governor when the legislature is back in session January 10, and Democrat Ralph Northam will be governor. This all means "Republicans may be forced to advance a more bipartisan agenda," the Post reports.

"I knew it was going to be a roller coaster ride and the counts were going to change and votes were going to shift around. but I had faith in the system and final outcome," Simonds told the paper. "This is part of a huge wave election in Virginia where voters came out in record numbers to force a change in Virginia, and I'm really proud to be part of that change and part of that wave election."

Simonds, who has been a teacher and school board member, is an LGBT ally. "Shelly believes members of the LGBTQ community must have equal rights before the law," her campaign website states. "She'll always defend non-discrimination protections in the workplace. She knows how important it is that we work to create a society where our LGBTQ youth are happy and healthy, instead of disproportionately affected by mental health issues and suicide."

When the legislature reconvenes, it will also have its first transgender member, Democrat Danica Roem, who beat anti-LGBT incumbent Republican Bob Marshall in the 13th District. Roem will be the first out trans person seated in any state legislature. In 2012, trans woman Stacie Laughton was elected to the New Hampshire House, but she was never sworn in because of the revelation that she had a felony conviction. In 1992, Althea Garrison, who had just been elected to the Massachusetts legislature, was outed as trans by a Boston Herald reporter. "She has never publicly acknowledged her transgender status," and she has not been elected to office again, the Post notes.

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