December 19, 2017; Washington Post
Virginians went to the polls on November 7th, but the race for the 94th District in the House of Delegates wasn’t decided until Tuesday, December 19th. When the final tally came in after a recount, Democrat Shelly Simonds had 11,608 votes, while incumbent Republican David Yancey fell just one vote short with 11,607.
Going into the recount, Yancey led by 10 votes, but there was an 11-vote shift. This marks the first time a recount had altered an election outcome in Virginia in almost 30 years. The Washington Post notes that “A three-judge panel still must certify the results,” an event scheduled for today, but no challenges are expected. The Republican leader in the House of Delegates already sent his congratulations to Simonds.
The result would appear to create a “rare 50-50 tie between the parties in the House of Delegates.” We use the word “appear” because, despite the definitive Washington Post statement, Ballotpedia reports that at present the breakdown is really 49-49, with two more seats—one leaning Democratic and the other leaning Republican—still to be decided.
On December 20, a recount is being held for District 68, where Dawn Adams (D) leads Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R) by over 300 votes. If the result of that election holds, Democrats will control 50 of 100 seats in the Virginia House in 2018. They will have an opportunity to pick up their 51st seat when a recount is held for the District 28 race on December 21st. In that contest, Robert Thomas Jr. (R) leads Joshua Cole (D) by 82 votes. Democrats have also filed a lawsuit in the District 28 race due to a finding by the Department of Elections that 147 voters cast a ballot in the incorrect election, potentially impacting the results of the District 28 race. If their lawsuit moves forward, Democrats could potentially ask for a new election to be held for the seat.
Regardless of how this plays out, the outcome is a stunning turnabout from the nearly 2-1 majority (66 seats out of 100) that Republicans had enjoyed before November 7th. The even split, if it stands, would be the first time in 18 years that Republicans have lacked a majority in Virginia’s lower house. It is notable, too, that two years ago, when Simonds and Yancey also competed for the 94th District seat, Yancey prevailed by more than 15 percentage points, a stark illustration of the shift required to move the House from two-thirds Republican to an even split.
“This is part of a huge wave election in Virginia where voters came out in record numbers to force a change in Virginia,” Simonds said. “I’m really proud to be part of that change and part of that wave election.”
As in Alabama, voter turnout efforts in communities of color proved key in Virginia. Mother Jones covered these efforts before the election in October. Advocacy groups promoting turnout included the Black Progressive Action Coalition, the New Virginia Majority, the NAACP, and the Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative. In a district where more than one in five residents is Black, these turnout efforts would appear to have succeeded. According to the Virginia Pilot, the top two candidates in the 94th District combined had just over 14,000 votes in 2015, but over 23,000 in 2017. While having the governor’s race on the ballot surely helped, the 64-percent increase is very impressive.
As for the impact of the shift in the state capitol, it will certainly be significant, but the details may be complicated. The Post reports that:
Power sharing in the House of Delegates is an awkward exercise. Committee chairs have to be negotiated as does the person who will serve as Speaker. With the parties split 50-50, there is no mechanism to break ties and any legislation short of 51 votes does not advance. Republicans hold a slight 21-19 edge in the state senate but with a Democratic lieutenant governor to break ties, and a Democratic governor with veto power, Republicans may be forced to advance a more bipartisan agenda.
As Simonds enjoyed her victory with good humor. Noting that another Democrat had won a seat by one vote in 1991 and was named “Landslide Jim,” Shelley remarked, “I may become Landslide Shelly. As long as they call me delegate, I’m okay with it.”—Steve Dubb