Imagine running a tight campaign then discovering you unseated the Republican incumbent by a single vote—only to be told by a panel of judges the next day that you did not, in fact, win and the election will be decided by a literal coin toss.
Such is the case in Virginia’s House of Delegates. On Tuesday, Democrat Shelly Simonds was declared the winner of Virginia’s 94th District by one vote. With her victory, Simonds would have unseated the Republican incumbent, David Yancey, and flipped Virginia’s House from red to blue.
But less than 24 hours after Simonds was declared victorious, a panel of three judges in Richmond, VA, ruled that a dubiously vague ballot, which you can see below, could be counted as a vote for Yancey. Now a tie, the race will be decided “by lot” which could mean a coin toss, drawing straws, or even pulling a name out of a hat.
In this case, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, it appears as though Virginia’s election board will pick the winner’s name out of a hat:
“In those situations, the electoral board typically draws names out of a hat. I believe one locality uses an old fashioned tri-corner hat for these occasions,” Alcorn said. “The state board typically draws names out of a glass bowl when we’re picking the order of candidates for the ballot.”
“They put two names in, somebody shakes it up, and they pull it,” said State Board of Elections member Clara Belle Wheeler. “It’s that or it’s straws.”
While state law does mandate tied elections be decided “by lot” it seems like there might be a fairer option: a runoff. When the Virginia elections board chairman last decided a House election by lot in 1971, Ulysses P. Joyner Jr. picked the winner’s name out of a cup—but, both candidates conceded, there was probably a better way to decide the election.
“It’s a bad way to decide any election. There should have been a runoff to let the people decide,” said Democrat Jim Burch, who ended up losing after his opponent’s name was drawn.
House Democrats said on Wednesday that the court’s decision to accept a vote for Yancey was wrong. “Today’s decision by the court was wrong, and Delegate-elect Shelly Simonds should have been certified the winner,” said Democratic attorney Marc Elias. “We are currently assessing all legal options before us as we fight for a just result.”