Virginia Officials to Draw Name From Bowl to Decide Election

A contentious race for a House seat still has no official winner after the Democratic candidate won a recount — by one confusing vote.

Published Jan. 4, 2018

 (Sean Pavone /
Image courtesy of Sean Pavone /

There's no winner yet in Virginia's hotly contested race for a House seat despite a general election, a recount and a legal battle. Now election officials are turning to a ceramic bowl.

But even that may not be enough. Although a drawing of names is scheduled for Thursday morning to determine who will occupy the seat in the 94th District, the loser could push for a second recount or ask the House to step in and pick a winner.

Republican incumbent David Yancey indicated that he could take such a step if he loses, refusing a proposal from opponent Democrat Shelly Simonds on Wednesday that both sides accept the name drawing as final.

Yancey said he was "not going to deny myself or the people of the 94th district due process." A delay on settling the winner could allow Republicans to start the 2018 legislative session next week at a 50-49 majority, which would let them pick a speaker and set committee assignments.

At a meeting on Capitol Square, the state elections board will print the name of each candidate on a piece of paper, place each paper into a separate film canister, and place the canisters into a cobalt-blue-and-white ceramic bowl made by a local artist. The winner will be then be picked in a blind draw.

The drawing will be the latest dramatic twist in a November election that saw Democrats wipe out a 66-34 advantage held by Republicans in the House. If Simonds wins, the partisan split will be 50-50. If Yancey wins, Republicans will have a 51-49 majority.

Adding another wrinkle: The Newport News seat is not the only contested House race. Democrats have filed a legal challenge in a close Fredericksburg-area race in which several voters were given the wrong ballots. A hearing in that case is set for Friday.

Partisans on both sides have different opinions of what state law allows in terms of another recount. After Yancey rejected her proposal to accept the drawing results as final, Simonds said she wouldn't rule out asking for one herself.

"I'm not prepared to give up," she said. "All options are on the table as far as I'm concerned."

Simonds appeared to have lost on Election Day by 10 votes, but on Dec. 19, she won a recount by a single vote. The next day, a three-judge panel in Newport News declared a tie based on a previously uncounted vote for Yancey. Simonds asked the judges to reconsider, but on Wednesday the panel denied her request in strident terms, saying "the right of a citizen to cast a free vote has been secured to us by the blood of patriots."

"The manifest injustice against which we must always guard is the chance that a single vote may not be counted," the judges wrote.

At the heart of the dispute in the race for a seat in the oldest legislative body in the country is a single ballot on which the voter filled in the bubble for both Simonds and Yancey. The voter also drew a single slash through the bubble for Simonds and picked Republican candidates in statewide races.

The ballot wasn't counted during the recount and was identified after a Republican election official raised concerns the following day.

Brooke Binkowski is a former editor for Snopes.