202.5

Thomas to be seated, giving GOP control of Va. house, despite wrong votes

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Republicans are now certain to have control of Virginia’s House of Delegates when it convenes next week, after a federal judge rejected a Democratic effort Friday to get an immediate election do-over in the Fredericksburg area.

Voters backed by the House Democratic Caucus argued that the fact that 147 people cast ballots in the wrong House races on Nov. 7 in parts of Fredericksburg and Stafford County irreparably tainted the 28th District race, which Republican Bob Thomas won by 73 votes over Democrat Joshua Cole.

They argued that Judge T.S. Ellis should have kept Thomas from being seated until a new election could be held with correct voter assignments.

Ellis rejected the request for a preliminary injunction, saying at a hearing late Friday that he was not convinced the issues reach the extremely high bar for immediate federal court intervention.

“If I go on and hear this case…I could order a new election, but it’s going to take much much more than I’ve seen today,” Ellis said, reading a nearly hourlong ruling from the bench. The judge went on to say that Virginia had done its job in offering recounts and contests, and that federal intervention at this point would overstep.

The lawsuit will continue, though, which could still lead to a new election later. The voters can appeal.

Cole decided not to contest the election in the House of Delegates, which was a potential remedy allowed under state law. Cole’s campaign feared the move could backfire if Ellis delayed a ruling to wait for the outcome and a Republican majority rejected the request to order a new election.

With Thomas in the House, Republicans expect at least a 50-49 edge Wednesday for the opening votes — to elect Del. Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights as House Speaker and to enshrine Republican majorities on committees for the two-year term.

Del. David Yancey expects to make the GOP majority 51-49 after his name was drawn from a bowl Thursday to break a tie in a Newport News race, but Democrat Shelly Simonds could pursue an additional challenge in that race before the session begins. There are legal questions about whether a second recount is possible, although Republicans believe that it would be allowed. Simonds could also file a contest of the race in the House.

Even if Simonds eventually prevails, it is not expected to get her seated in time to create a 50-50 split for the key votes at the start of the session.


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