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Va. House tied 50-50 after Newport News Dem wins seat by 1 vote

Election officials in Newport News, Va., examine ballots that a computer failed to scan during a recount for a House of Delegates race on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Republican incumbent Del. David Yancey had won against Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds by just 10 votes in November. (AP Photo/Ben Finley)

WASHINGTON — Virginia Democrats picked up one more seat in the House of Delegates Tuesday after a recount in Newport News flipped the results of the Nov. 7 election, according to unofficial recount results.

Democrat Shelly Simonds beat three-term incumbent Republican David Yancey in the 94th District race by a margin of a single vote, said Trent Armitage, executive director of the Virginia House Democratic Caucus.

A three-judge panel must formally certify the recount vote, which is set to happen on Wednesday, Armitage said. Although no ballots were expected to be challenged. The final tally was 11,608 for Simonds and 11,607 for Yancey.

Simonds had trailed Yancey by 10 votes after election night.

Simonds, a school board member, called it a “wave election” and said she caught the tail end of that wave in Newport News.

“The citizens of Virginia sent a big message that they’re ready for a change of pace, a change of heart on things like health care and things that really matter day to day to the families in Virginia,” Simonds said.

She hopes her win will mean that the state could expand the Medicaid program — long a policy goal of Democrats — and to push out of committee legislation that would create nonpartisan redistricting, the Equal Right Amendment and even increase the state’s minimum wage, she said.

Simonds’ victory would increase Democrats membership in the House to 50, tying Republicans who also would have 50 members. Not since the 1990s has a tie forced the two parties to share power.

However two other recounts will decide the final tally in the House. The recounts for the 28th District in Stafford County and Fredericksburg and the 68th District in Richmond were scheduled for later this week.

A fourth recount in the Fairfax County-centered 40th District confirmed the winner as incumbent Del. Tim Hugo, a member of the House Republican leadership team.

Based on certified election results, Republicans would have controlled the chamber 51-49.

“This is going to be used in every political science classroom in the country to show people that every vote does matter,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor and director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington.

Farnsworth said that the one-vote victory is uncommon in such a large race, but it’s even more unusual because of the outsized influence that single vote will have on the state.

“That one-vote margin in one House of Delegates district in Virginia is going to redirect the politics of the entire House of Delegates and the entire state,” Farnsworth said.

In a statement, Republican House leaders congratulated Simonds on her win and welcomed her to the “historic body.”

Delegates Kirk Cox, who stood to become the next speaker if Republicans held their majority, along with Hugo, Todd Gilbert and Nick Rush addressed the possibility of jointly sharing power with Democrats.

“We stand ready to establish a bipartisan framework under which the House can operate efficiently and effectively over the next two years,” the statement reads.

“The responsibilities of the House of Delegates as an institution transcend party labels, and our obligations to govern this Commonwealth remain. As we have said for the last six weeks, we are committed to leading and governing alongside our colleagues. We must balance the budget, grow our economy, improve our schools, and fight the opioid crisis.”

Democrats were optimistic that a deal could be reached with Republicans.

Del. David Toscano, the Democratic leader in the House, said conversations have already begun on how the House would operate.

“The Republican and Democrats have a chance to do something really special here that hasn’t occurred in a long, long time,” Toscano said. “I don’t think the emphasis should be so much on who actually holds the gavel, but rather how do we share the power in a way that is going to be equitable.”

Del. Charniele Herring, the Democratic Caucus chair, said she believed the evenly divided House could result in true bipartisanship.

“I’m optimist that we can actually be a model for the nation,” she said.

WTOP’s Dick Uliano and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


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