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3 Weeks After Election, It's Unclear Who Will Control Virginia House Of Delegates


Two close races in Virginia's elections earlier this month are now certified. At stake was control of the state's House of Delegates, and it was declared today that both of those races were won by Republicans. It is a bittersweet victory for the GOP after the surprisingly strong showing Democrats had on November 7. NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us now to talk about this. And Sarah, why have those vote counts been so contentious?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Well, the big reason is that control of the Virginia House of Delegates is at stake here. So these two races are in adjoining districts, and state election officials have said that at least 147 people in that area voted in the wrong House of Delegates race. It's not totally clear what went wrong, but some voters were assigned to the wrong districts. And to make matters worse, Robert, the local registrar in the area in question died earlier this year, so she's unable to explain the mix-up.

In one of these districts, the Republican won by a few thousand votes. But in the other one, it was much tighter. The candidates were separated by less than a hundred votes. That one of course has been the most contentious. So today state elections officials met, and in each case, they said the Republican is the winner.

SIEGEL: So what happens next? Does this mean that the Republicans will control the Virginia House of Delegates?

MCCAMMON: As it stands with all the House races now certified, Republicans would have a 51-49 majority. But Democrats are expected to ask for recounts in a few races that were very close. In at least one case, we're talking about a margin of 10 votes or so. Democrats have shown a willingness, too, to take this fight to court. For example, just before Thanksgiving, they tried unsuccessfully to sue to stop the state board of elections from certifying these results.

But Democrats now say they're assessing their options for how to move forward, so we could see more litigation about some of these voting irregularities or other issues. And meanwhile, the incoming Republican House leader says he's pleased that the results have been certified but expressed disappointment at how long the process has taken.

SIEGEL: Sarah, we're talking about just one legislative chamber - the lower House - in one state, Virginia. But what, if anything, is the larger significance of this fight over the control of the Virginia House of Delegates?

MCCAMMON: Well, Robert, Republicans didn't expect to be having this fight at all. Remember; they went into Election Day with nearly a two-thirds majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. But Democrats organized across the state, ran candidates in districts where they hadn't run a Democrat in years, did surprisingly well up and down the ticket. So there is a lot at stake now.

If Republicans were to lose control of the House, it would be a big symbolic victory for Virginia Democrats. It could enable them to pass legislation in at least one chamber or, at minimum, force a conversation about some of their big legislative goals, things like expanding Medicaid, which Virginia has not done. Either way, there was a big Democratic wave here in Virginia this year. After the 2017 elections, Republicans don't have the power that they once did. And so that could mean some Republican delegates, especially those in potentially vulnerable areas, districts with large suburban populations, places that are rapidly becoming friendlier to Democrats - they may feel pressure to cooperate with Democrats. And Republicans will emerge one way or another with, at minimum, a severely eroded majority and a lot less power to push back against the state's Democratic incoming governor.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon speaking with us from Virginia Beach. Sarah, thanks.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.