January 4, 2018 / 11:54 AM / 16 days ago

Control of Virginia statehouse chamber at stake in lottery-style draw

(Reuters) - The winner of a tied Virginia legislative race that could change the balance of power in the statehouse is set to be decided on Thursday when state election officials draw a name from a bowl.

The lottery-style drawing is the next step after a recount that at one point showed Democrat Shelly Simonds beating Republican incumbent David Yancey by one vote for a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

A victory by Simonds would shift Republicans’ one-vote control of the 100-seat House of Delegates to a 50-50 split with Democrats, forcing the parties into a rare power-sharing arrangement.

But there is no guarantee that the drawing at the state elections board in Richmond will end the fight over the 94th District seat. Under state law, the loser could request another recount or mount a legal challenge.

“Given the stakes, further litigation would not be a surprise at all,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “It’s a gigantic mess.”

The deadlocked race occurred during Democrats’ massive gains in Virginia’s statehouse elections in November. The wins were part of the party’s first big wave of political victories since Republican President Donald Trump won the White House in 2016.

Virginia law provides for resolving tied elections by lot. Officials are under pressure to resolve the issue before the legislature convenes next Wednesday and elects a speaker, who makes committee appointments.

Simonds had appeared to win a recount, but a three-judge panel ruled that a disputed ballot should be counted for Yancey. The decision left the candidates tied with 11,608 votes each in the southeastern Virginia district.

After judges on Wednesday rejected a bid by Simonds to reconsider their ruling, she called on Yancey to abide by the drawing’s result. In a statement, Yancey said he would follow the process laid out in state law.

Republicans control the state Senate. Democrat Ralph Northam is to be sworn in as governor on Jan. 13.

At least 32 states call for a random drawing to resolve some types of elections, such as municipal races. Other states leave the decision to the legislature or require a runoff.

A second race in the Virginia House also remains in dispute. Voters filed a federal lawsuit over the election in the 28th District, where a Republican won after at least 147 ballots were found to be assigned to the wrong districts.

Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler

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