By Ahniaelyah Spraggs
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday called for a law requiring a special election if an election recount ends in a tie – as it did in the state’s 94th House District last fall.
That tied election in Newport News between Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds was decided by a lottery – film canisters pulled out of a bowl. That is what prompted Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, to propose House Bill 1581.
“When it was announced that the winner of the 94th District House race was to be determined by lot – by drawing a name out of a bowl – there was an instant reaction,” Price said at a news conference attended by the caucus chair, Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, and other legislators.
Yancey, the incumbent delegate, won the lottery held by the State Board of Elections on Jan. 4. Price said that regardless of party, Virginians deserve a better way of settling deadlocked elections.
Price said she was holiday shopping for her nephew in December when both Republican and Democratic residents of the 94th House District approached her about the upcoming lottery. Price recalled one man saying, “I know we don’t agree on much, but tell me you agree that this just isn’t right.”
“So HB 1581 takes into account the feelings of disenfranchisement and serves as a fix. It says if the court finds that each party to the recount has received an equal number of votes, it shall issue a writ promptly ordering a special election be held to determine which candidate is elected to office,” Price said.
The proposed rule would apply to all elected offices except governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The Virginia Constitution says the General Assembly must settle any tied election for those statewide offices.
Price’s idea to hold a special election received support at the news conference from Dawnn Wallace, who lives in the 94th House District.
“I was one of the 23,891 people who cast a vote on Nov. 7, 2017, in the House of Delegates election for the 94th District,” Wallace said. In that election, after a recount and a court hearing, officials determined that Yancey and Simonds each got 11,608 votes, with the rest going to a Libertarian and write-in candidates.
Wallace said she makes sure to vote in every election. When she learned that her state delegate would be chosen by picking a name out of a bowl, she said she was flabbergasted.
“Many of my family members, neighbors and friends who live in the 94th District felt the same way,” Wallace said. “And our immediate concern moved from who would prevail to how that person was going to win.”
As a sports fan, Wallace said it was like having a football game decided by a coin flip. Just as games tied at the end of regulation go into overtime, Wallace said a recount that ends in a tie should be decided by a special election.
A subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee is scheduled to hear Price’s bill on Thursday.