January 4, 2018 / 3:03 AM / a year ago

Democrat loses bid to overturn tie in key Virginia House race

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A lottery-style drawing to determine the winner of a tied Virginia House of Delegates race will go ahead after a recount court on Wednesday rejected a bid by the Democratic candidate to reconsider its ruling that the race was a tie.

The Newport News Circuit Court’s ruling clears the way for state election officials to hold a random drawing as planned on Thursday to choose Democrat Shelly Simonds or Republican incumbent David Yancey as the victor in the race.

Republicans hold a one-vote margin in the 100-seat House. If Simonds is picked, the chamber would be split 50-50 and force lawmakers into a rare power-sharing arrangement.

A recount had shown that Simonds won the Nov. 7 election by one vote, but a three-judge panel ruled that a disputed ballot should be counted for Yancey. Simonds filed a lawsuit asking the judges to reconsider the decision.

On Wednesday, the judges said the Democrat had failed to show their previous ruling was in error or unjust.

“The manifest injustice against which we must always guard is the chance that a single vote may not be counted,” the panel said in an 11-page ruling.

An image filed in court showed that the disputed ballot had bubbles filled in beside both candidates, with a slash mark by Simonds’ name.

The tied race in the 94th District came amid Democrats’ historic gains in Virginia’s statehouse elections in November. They were part of the party’s first big wave of political victories since Republican Donald Trump won the White House in 2016.

Simonds called on Yancey to agree not to challenge the results of Thursday’s drawing. After Yancey responded by saying he would follow the process laid out in state law, Simonds told reporters late Wednesday that “all options are on the table” if she loses the drawing.

“I am not prepared to give up,” she said.

Officials are under pressure to resolve the issue with the legislature set to convene on Jan. 10 and elect a speaker. Republicans hold a majority in the state Senate, and Democrat Ralph Northam is set to be sworn in as governor on Jan. 13.

A second House race 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; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and James Dalgleish

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