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Virginia Picks Winner Of Tied State House Election


Today, a random drawing settled a hotly contested political race in Virginia. The candidates for House District 94 had disputed the election results in November. There was a recount, and there were legal challenges. Control of the Virginia House of Delegates hung in the balance. So today in Richmond, the State Board of Elections chairman reached into a bowl to fish out a piece of paper inside a film canister, and then he read a name...


JAMES ALCORN: The winner of House District 94 is David Yancey.

SIEGEL: ...David Yancey, the Republican. NPR's Sarah McCammon has been following this race closely and joins us now. And Sarah, tell us how Virginia got to a drawing of lots today.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Yeah, it's been a really unusual and convoluted process and really unexpected because Republicans went into the November election with just about a two-thirds majority in the House of Delegates. But Democrats organized really hard all over the state of Virginia, came close to erasing that.

And Robert, to recap what happened with this race, House District 94 in southeast Virginia, the initial election result in November was really close, so there was a recount. The Democrat, Shelly Simonds, won that recount by one vote. That appeared to set up a 50-50 partisan split in the legislature, which would have given Democrats a chance to share power and maybe push through goals like expanding Medicaid. But that was far from the end of this.

There was this one questionable ballot that was re-examined shortly thereafter, and election officials counted that vote for the Republican, David Yancey. That created a tie in this race, which is why this drawing had to be held to finally determine the winner.

SIEGEL: How unusual is it to settle a race with a drawing?

MCCAMMON: Well, it depends where you live. Different states handle these things differently. As our colleague Jessica Taylor has reported, some states like Ohio have used a coin toss. In Colorado, local elections have been decided with a Vegas-style card draw. And here in Virginia, under state law, it comes down to a drawing. Yancey, the Republican incumbent, by the way, was not present at the drawing today because of the big snowstorm that's been bearing down on this region.

SIEGEL: And then there's the odd devices used for the drawing. Why film canisters?

MCCAMMON: Right. The details beyond the fact that there's a tiebreaking drawing are really a matter of tradition. Election officials say they've used film canisters for a long time in Virginia. These are the old-school kind some of us might remember. They were actually ordered on Amazon, we're told.

And so what they do is they put each candidate's name inside of one canister each, put those in a bowl, shake them up, draw the winner. And it does have a lot of significance. With Yancey's win today, as things stand now, Republicans would seem to have a 51-49 majority in the Virginia House.

SIEGEL: And does that mean that this is all over now; Yancey will be sworn in, and that'll be that?

MCCAMMON: Well, not necessarily. Democrats could still ask for another recount. So far, they have not conceded, and they just say that they're keeping their options open. And Shelly Simonds, the Democrat, says she'll let her supporters know about any next steps.

I should mention there's one other seat that's still in dispute in federal court. A group of Democratic voters has asked for a new election there, and there's a hearing on that one tomorrow in the D.C. suburbs. But the assembly - the Virginia General Assembly convenes in less than a week. And at least for now, Republicans are poised to be in control.

SIEGEL: NPR's Sarah McCammon, 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.