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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

January 12, 2018

After Weeks of Suspense, David Yancey Declared Winner of 94th District Race

Elections / State

Confetti at victory celebration

In the November 2017 election, the Democratic Party secured 15 new seats in the state legislature, severely eroding the long-standing Republican majority in the chamber. However, the election in House District 94 took more than two months to resolve. “This election has certainly shown the importance of every vote and the power of one single vote,” said James Alcorn, the chairman of the State Board of Elections.

The election for the 94th district was a rematch from 2015 between Democrat Shelly Simonds, an incumbent on the Newport News School Board, against Republican incumbent Delegate David Yancey, who has held the seat since 2011. Although Yancey won the 2015 race handily, the 2017 race was highly competitive, due in part to backlash to the Trump Administration which appears to have mobilized Democratic Party voters. The initial vote count showed Yancey to be the winner by 10 votes. Because of the close margin, a recount was conducted to examine undervotes and overvotes, which were not counted initially by the scanners because they were improperly marked. Recounts allow a team of election officials, along with representatives of each party, to examine ballots by hand to determine if the voter’s intention can be discerned. This process produced a 1 vote Simonds’ victory, and the candidate was announced as the presumptive delegate-elect pending certification by the court the next day. However, during the certification process, a ballot that was previously deemed invalid was questioned by a recount official who believed it had been erroneously excluded but should have been counted as a vote for David Yancey. The questioned ballot shows 2 votes for the House of Delegates race, 1 for Yancey and 1 for Simonds, but the voter slashed the upper corner of the bubble that was colored for Simonds. A panel of three judges evaluated the ballot and declared that the vote should be counted in favor of Yancey, leaving Simonds and Yancey perfectly tied.

Interestingly, Virginia election law provides that ties produced by recounts are settled by what is known as “drawing for lots,” which involves putting both candidates’ names into a bowl and drawing a winner. The last time a Virginia legislative race was decided by drawing for lots was nearly 50 years ago, and such a drawing had never before also determined party control of a chamber of a legislature. The drawing was initially delayed, as the Simonds campaign challenged the court’s decision to include the Yancey vote. Once resolved, the drawing was held on January 4th in Richmond where Chairman Alcorn drew David Yancey’s name out of a ceramic bowl, securing his seat as the representative for District 94.

The drawing left Simonds in an unenviable decision: concede the race and allow Delegate to Yancey to sworn into office in time for the beginning of the session which began January 10th, or call for another recount which would have left the 94th district unrepresented as well as produced a tie in the party division of the chamber. Citing the necessity for resolution in time for the beginning of the legislative session, Shelly Simonds conceded the race just before the noon deadline but warned of her intention to run for the seat again in the 2019 cycle.

The events in the 94th district attracted significant state and national media attention, with much of the interest coming from the impact of the results on control of the House of Delegates in which Republicans have had a majority for 18 years. Had Simonds won the 94th the parties would have tied and been forced into a power-sharing agreement. Once David Yancey was sat, Delegate Kirk Cox was sworn in as the new Republican Speaker, replacing former Speaker William Howell, who opted to retire at the end of the 2017 session. Still, the close election in the 94th district, along with the significant seat gains made by the Democrats, has significantly changed the power distribution in the House of Delegates for the 2018 session. Although Republicans continue to enjoy a 1 seat majority and retain the speakership, committee representation is closely divided, with 12 Republican members and 10 Democrats serving on each, making for one of the most unpredictable sessions in recent memory.

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