2017-12-20 / Front Page

Statehouse, and Kirk Cox, cling to power – by a single vote

Recount leads to a draw in the 94th District
By Jim McConnell

After a rollercoaster last 24 hours, Kirk Cox’s hold on the top leadership position in the House of Delegates will be decided – literally – by luck of the draw. Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights PHOTO BY ASH DANIELDel. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights PHOTO BY ASH DANIEL

That’s how state election officials intend to break an unprecedented deadlock in the 94th House District race, the outcome of which will decide whether Republicans carry a 51-49 advantage into the upcoming General Assembly session or Democrats claim a share of power by forging a 50-all tie. 

A three-judge panel that met Wednesday morning to certify the results of Tuesday’s 94th District recount instead granted a request by incumbent Del. David Yancey to count one ballot that had been discarded as an “overvote.” 

The voter filled in bubbles for both Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds. Noting the voter also marked through the Simonds bubble, the judges concluded it was a vote for Yancey, leaving both candidates with 11,608 votes. 

Under state law, the State Board of Elections now must break the tie through “determination by lot.” In layman’s terms, that’s tantamount to drawing names out of a hat. 

“While it appeared yesterday that Shelly Simonds was elected, it's obvious now that the result will remain unclear for a while longer,” Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said in a statement Wednesday. 

Simonds went to bed Tuesday night thinking she had won the Newport News-area seat by one vote over Yancey following the recount of Nov. 7 election results. 

Yancey began the recount with a 10-vote lead, but by the time all absentee ballots were counted, Simonds had pulled ahead by the slimmest of margins. 

Cox, who represents part of Chesterfield, and other GOP leaders issued a statement Tuesday congratulating Simonds, seemingly resigned to the end of 17 years of Republican leadership in the House. 

In the event of a power-sharing arrangement, Democrats were expected to claim the speakership – and in the process, deny Cox a post he appeared destined to inherit when the House Republican Caucus chose him to succeed the retiring William Howell as speaker-designee in February. 

At that point, GOP delegates held 64 of the House’s 100 seats. Democrats flipped 15 seats in a stunning “wave election” last month and came close enough to winning three others to request recounts. 

Now control of the chamber hangs in the balance. 

The House Democratic Caucus issued a statement yesterday in which its attorney, Marc Elias, suggested the three-judge panel erred in accepting the “overvote” ballot.

“Delegate-elect Shelly Simonds should have been certified the winner,” Elias said. “We are currently assessing all legal options before us as we fight for a just result.

“The Republicans themselves had affirmed that this result was accurate yesterday before changing their minds today. After conceding this seat and their majority, they are now desperately trying to claw both back ‘like a snarling dog that won’t let go of a bone.’” 

It’s unclear when state election officials will conduct the tiebreaking draw and exactly what method it will use. 

Regardless of the outcome, the loser is permitted by law to request another recount, which effectively will start the process all over again.

The winner must be certified by the time the 2018 General Assembly session starts on Jan. 10. 

“As we have said consistently throughout this process, we are committed to an open, fair and honest election in which every lawful vote is counted,” Cox said.

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